The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
SOMETIMES, THE Ben Folds Five - who are, of course, a trio - try too hard for the chuckle, even when (as with their name) it's not really that funny. Take the album title; when they named it thus, it's claimed, they had not heard of the famous mountaineer called Reinhold Messner; for them, the name apparently refers to a popular fake ID used by Arizona teens to buy alcohol illegally. That's all - there's no obvious connection between the album title and the 11 songs, no ironical or punning entendre, just an in-joke that's not even amusing. It's the same with their material - these 11 tracks aren't really songs at all, they're conceits. Admittedly, the subject matter doesn't shirk such thorny themes as emotional evasion, deceit and mid-life disillusion, but musically, they try too hard to render pop as light opera, with Folds cycling through his repertoire of party- pieces, mixing in references to Ray Charles and La Bamba almost as touchstones of authenticity, before ladling on the strings as misguided evidence of artistic ambition.
ON PREVIOUS albums, Electronic has come across as a half-way house between the duo's contributory influences of neat, understated dance-pop and tougher, guitar-based rock. Twisted Tenderness is an appreciably more unified effort, but while the heavier rock stylings lead you to surmise that Johnny Marr exercises some hegemony over the band's sound, the fact that the album gets darker as it proceeds, eventually concluding in the Gothic gloom of "Flicker", means that Bernard Sumner comes closer to his Joy Division origins than at any time in the past 18 years or so. "Make it Happen" is typical: a guitar wah-wahs lazily from speaker to speaker, while a rocky breakbeat bruised with synthetic percussion underscores Sumner's positive-thinking lyric. It's routine anthemic rock, albeit with a contemporary texture - I was reminded of Bowie's Nineties output, while the Arabic vocal drone, backward guitar, heavy drums and splashy cymbals of "Prodigal Son" recalled Page & Plant's last record. Eventually, I suppose, all streams join the same big river.
THE LILAC TIME
Looking for a Day in the Night
THE DUFFY brothers' reformation album is like a more reserved, anglicised version of the Jayhawks' 1997 comeback Sound of Lies, involving much the same raking over of domestic and career travails to try to clear the air. The result is a midlife-crisis work of admirably positive outlook, with songs such as "A Dream That We All Share" and "A Day in the Night" regarding the past resignedly with wistful or cynical gaze - "life is cheap, keep the receipt and I can claim it back pal" - while seeking closure in the warmth of the music, which dabs at such sentiments with featherbed country-rock textures. Stephen Duffy reflects with mordant humour on his departure from BMG ("All Over Again"), glumly ponders a relationship that's drifting slowly apart ("Back in the Car Park") and muses upon true family values ("The Family Coach"), exhibiting the values of songcraft routinely ascribed to such as Prefab Sprout, an impression emphasised by the way his voice and Claire Worrall's combine in such modest intimacy. Best line: "You'll make her misunderstand you're misunderstood".
THE FUTURE PILOT AKA
The Future Pilot AKA vs
A Galaxy of Sound
IT'S AN obvious fact, but it needs re-stating: the most significant change in recent pop history has been effected by the emancipation of recording technology. You no longer need to dream of "getting a deal" or contemplate trudging round the nation's toilets playing to three men and a dog. Just sit at your computer and make it up yourself. The odds are that it'll be a sight more enjoyable than the flaccid pub-rock that currently passes for live entertainment. This is brought into stark relief on this double CD from The Future Pilot AKA, aka ex-Soup Dragon/ BMX Bandit Sushill K Dade, whose Galaxy of Sound incorporates collaborations with such as Brix Smith, Alan Vega, Cornershop, Kim Fowley and the Pastels - in other words, the kind of rock lags you'd think twice about attending a gig by. In consort with The Future Pilot, though, this diverse crew take on an appealing, oddly homogeneous sheen, most movingly on the pieces that partner Dade with the lesser-known likes of Bill Wells and Suckmonster: the latter's lilting ethno-forgery, "Japan", in particular, is exquisite.