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In Brief

* 1/2, BEN FOLDS FIVE, "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner", Sony/550 Music

April 25, 1999|NATALIE NICHOLS

What does the North Carolina trio's slick, antiseptic song cycle have to do with German mountaineer Reinhold Messner, a seasoned adventurer who in 1980 became the first solo climber to scale Mt. Everest without using bottled oxygen? Well, Messner's own books on his exploits have been called surprisingly dry and uninspiring, so perhaps wise-guy pianist-songwriter Ben Folds, drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge are mocking Messner with such banal musings as "Narcolepsy" and "Regrets."

Maybe the point is that even people with apparently interesting lives can be dull as dishwater, but if so, the artists' imitation is a bit too close. Folds' lugubrious guilelessness quickly becomes tiresome on such numbers as the jazz-tinged "Hospital Song" and the pulsating mid-tempo ballad "Your Redneck Past." The latter's sing-song, deadpan guide to escaping one's ancestry is clearly ironic, but only the sardonic "Army" reflects the drive and humor of such finer Folds moments as "Song for the Dumped."

Embellished with strings and horns, the album blends old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley songwriting with Queen-style rock-opera flourishes and the airy feel of various '70s hits by the Eagles and Billy Joel. But the lack of conviction, or perhaps the perpetual burlesque, makes "Biography" (in stores Tuesday) fall as flat as a bad musical.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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