First off, there are only three guys in the band. You see, Ben Folds Five sounds a whole lot better than Ben Folds Three. Nothing more to it than that. Those three guys are Ben Folds
on piano, Robert Sledge
on bass and Darren Jessee
on drums. Ben could have single-handedly played every instrument in the band himself, having played each one while kicking around in his earlier North Carolina
-based groups, Majosha
, Pots and Pans
and the Semantics
. It seems that Ben was always in one band or another. Majosha (pronounced Muh-jah'-sha), had a single semi-successful release with Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus
. While the album was suited for parties and other gigs, which the band played in scores, there were only four songs on the EP and none of them were about Jesus. Eventually, Majosha broke up and Ben moved on to drums with Pots and Pans and The Semantics. When Ben left the latter group, he was replaced by Zack Starkey
, son of Richard Starkey
(a.k.a. Ringo Starr
), who is the current drummer for The Who
. Not a bad guy to get replaced by. After playing on Barry Black's
jazzy, instrumental debut album with Darren Jessee, the two put together the band that would finally get them heard outside of North Carolina.
Their penchant for goofiness infused itself into every aspect of the band. It is a rare rock band that doesn't include at least one guitar or two, three or even four (like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band). Ben's frenetic piano playing makes it wholly unnecessary. Ben Folds Five packs a punch not found in many an overwrought, poly-instrumental rock band. Their lyrics are equally unusual, but also cutting, clever and cruelly candid. Ben's feelings when writing songs are left in no doubt. There is little ambiguity to be found in, "Give me my money back! Give me my money back, you b***h!". Many of the band's songs express a frank anger at the world, for having been mistreated by classmates as a child, for having nothing to do with themselves, or for getting stuck with cold and heartless women. However, these are not the sole subjects of their songs. There is the cheerful romp about the carefree Kate, the story of a man afraid his house would burn down if his wife dropped her Cigarette when she fell asleep, and the poignant story of a trip to an abortion clinic in Brick. Oh, and in case the their music is not enough entertainment, you can play Pong with Ben's head at www.benfoldsfive.com.
The band released their self-titled first album in 1995 on Caroline Records and it met with both critical and commercial success. It featured such great songs as Underground, Philosophy and Best Imitation of Myself. It was followed in 1997 by Whatever And Ever Amen, a fabulous album both musically and lyrically, with all the energy and ingenuity the listening public had expected of them. It included Brick, the band's most popular song, as well as One Angy Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces, and Song For The Dumped. Ben Folds Five were also a fabulous and innovative live band and allows fans to tape and trade their shows. They released an album of unreleased and live material entitled Naked Baby Photos shortly after Whatever And Ever Amen.
Their next album was a significant departure from their previous works and marked the beginning of the end for the band. The only song off of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner with the band's usual vibe was Army, which was a moderate success. The rest of the album almost has the feel of a concept album, lyrically intense with a common emotional thread and airy piano parts. The story of the album's title is a somewhat unusual one. While Reinhold Messner is one of the most famous mountain climbers in history, the band didn't know that when they named the album. They had a friend back home in North Carolina who used the name Reinhold Messner on a fake ID. The ID was passed around amongst them and, for a spell, the bars of Charlotte, North Carolina witnessed an inordinate number of famous mountain climbers in attendance. Once the band learned about the real Reinhold Messner, they were very glad to discover that he was a good sport and had no problem with them keeping the album title.
After the only modest success of Messner, the band broke up, feeling that they had nowhere else to go musically and have begun work on a variety of other projects. Ben Folds released his first solo album, Rockin The Suburbs in 2001 and a live album in 2002. Robert Sledge has dabbled in production and tours with ex-members of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and his band The Minor Drag. Darren Jessee is also continuing to perform and write new music on his own. Ben Folds Five had a remarkable impact for a band that released only three albums. This is a testimony to their genius and also, perhaps, their eccentricity.
Ben Folds Five.com - www.benfoldsfive.com
VH1.com - http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/ben_folds_five/artist.jhtml
The Strangest Things: Ben Folds Five - http://benfoldsfive.nodata.org