Volume 93, Issue 1
Friday, May 14, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Soundtracks to summer
Ben Folds Five
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
This third studio album from the critically lauded three piece is the band's most polished and mature offering to date. While the "serious songs" on previous efforts had been balanced out by goof ball arrangements and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, The Unauthorized Biography sees the band take a sombre step into a bleaker, more introspective landscape.
In other words, don't expect the same band who wrote the hilariously cynical "Song For The Dumped" or the snarkily covered Oasis' "Champagne Supernova" on previous efforts. With the exception of the wryly delivered "Your Redneck Past" or the infectiously witty first single "Army," The Unauthorized Biography is a moody and reflective work.
Folds' simple, untainted delivery only makes the poignant lyrics that much more affecting. "You're the reason I wanna stay," he sighs in "Don't Change Your Plans" "I loved you before I met you / and I met you just in time cause there was nothing left." In the hands of a lesser songwriter, it would be sappy and contrived. However, Folds' delivery conspires with the band's musical reverence to turn it into one of the most touching songs on the album.
Even more stunning is the heartbreaking, standout track "Magic," which starts out as a lilting ballad and eventually builds into a momentous string-laden affair. By the time Folds is squeaking out the final lines you'll either be compelled to call up your significant other or lament the fact that you don't have one. Either way, it's a far cry from the quirky Ben Folds Five of old.
If it weren't for a couple of slightly directionless songs near the end, The Unauthorized Biography would be an early shoe-in for pop album of the year. As it stands, it will surely go down as tangible evidence the Ben Folds Five are deserving of all the hype. With any justice, it'll serve as the soundtrack to many a wistful summer evening.
Here's the thing Suede can write great pop songs. They always have and they probably always will. Listen to a song like "Savoir Faire" from Head Music and it's impossible to deny that the band have an innate ability to write infinitely catchy pop tunes.
The problem is there once was a time where they used to do so much more than that. Their self titled 1993 classic and the 1995 epic Dog Man Star are widely considered to be landmarks in British pop. Lead singer Brett Anderson once wrote about things with relevance and his lyrical flourishes were outmatched only by the tragic melodrama of the music which accompanied them.
Now things are different and hard-core Suede fans are still clamoring to adjust. Anderson still frequently writes about his favourite subjects (sex, drugs, the bustle of the city streets), but does so with a detached air which renders it all kind of comical. That tragic elegance which once defined a Suede record is gone, replaced by something more upbeat and light-hearted. It's almost as if Suede have become a parody of themselves.
Although Head Music has widely been touted as the band's attempt to write more complex songs, the reality is many of the 13 tracks on Head Music are merely recycled Suede classics. From the incredibly disappointing first single "Electricity" to the drawn-out and laboured "Down," a large part of Head Music is simply Suede-by-numbers.
That said, even a terrible Suede album is still better than most bands' best. The previously mentioned "Savoir Faire" and the rousing "She's In Fashion" are pop gems and the slightly dark and moody slink of "Asbestos" and "Indian Strings" make you wonder what this album could have sounded like under the proper guidance.
By anyone else's standards, Head Music is a great pop record. By Suede's standards, it's a disappointment. Still recommended, although diehard fans should approach it with caution.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999