The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Studio album by Ben Folds Five
Released April 27, 1999
Recorded November 1998 – January 1999
Genre Alternative rock
Length 40:29
Label 550 Music
Producer Caleb Southern
Ben Folds Five chronology
Naked Baby Photos
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is the third and final studio album by Ben Folds Five, released April 27, 1999.


Origins of the album title

The title of the album refers to a name used, as teenagers, by the band's drummer Darren Jessee and his friends, on fake IDs. The band were unaware of the existence of the real Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb solo Mount Everest, and the first to do so without the aid of bottled oxygen, until work on the album had already progressed; they were informed of his existence in 1999 during an interview with DJ Bruce Warren of WXPN radio.[1] In the record's liner notes, Messner is thanked for his understanding and cooperation. He later contacted the band to let them know that he was highly pleased with the album.[citation needed]

Song information

Originally, "Don't Change Your Plans" was preceded by a long instrumental passage; Folds credits producer Caleb Southern for helping edit down the song to its final product, and told an interviewer that Southern, "just cut it away and then all of a sudden it was this pop song. And then it was like ‘Oh okay. I see what you’re talking about.’ Cause I didn’t hear it like that at all. I just heard it as this little masterpiece thing.” On the Ben Folds iTunes Originals, Folds explains that the song "Mess" is "loss of innocence song" about having so much baggage that now you are unable to completely explain your history; "you've made a mess."

The hospital referred to in "Hospital Song" is a real hospital: Forsyth Medical Center, located on Silas Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The vocal portion of "Your Most Valuable Possession" consists of a message left on Folds' answering machine by his father, Dean Folds, while he was partially asleep.

Folds stated in the iTunes Originals interview about the album: "The 'Reinhold Messner' record was – I think in a way it shows how naïve we were, and idealistic we were as a band to think the music business would care about us extending ourselves and developing and being something different, because that record was a failure – in almost every way that you can fail. As a commercial release, it didn’t sell up to anybody’s expectations; critically, it got sort of lukewarm reviews; and yet, I think that was our best work. I think it’s a great record."

The band reunited to play the album in its entirety in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on September 18, 2008.[2] The show was streamed live online as a part of MySpace's Front to Back series.


The band recorded the songs "Leather Jacket" (written by Jessee) and "Birds" (an instrumental written by bassist Robert Sledge) during the Reinhold Messner sessions; the songs were not included on the album, but were released as b-sides on the "Army" and "Don't Change Your Plans" singles. "Leather Jacket" would also later appear on the charity compilation No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees.

At least two songs, "Break Up at Food Court" and "Carrying Cathy", were recorded during these sessions, but were neither released nor played live by the band.[3] Folds would later re-record "Carrying Cathy" for his debut solo release, Rockin' the Suburbs.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars [4]
Robert Christgau B [5]
NME Favorable [6]
Pitchfork Media 3.3/10 [7]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars [8]

The record was given generally positive reviews, with AllMusic saying that it's the band's willingness "to forge a unique sound that makes The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner such an interesting album to listen to. There is care to these songs and, what's even more significant and fresh, there is also intelligence."[9] Robert Christgau gave the album a B.

Track listing

All songs written by Ben Folds except as indicated.

  1. "Narcolepsy" – 5:24
  2. "Don't Change Your Plans" – 5:11
  3. "Mess" – 4:03
  4. "Magic" (Darren Jessee) – 4:02
  5. "Hospital Song" – 2:05
  6. "Army" – 3:25
  7. "Your Redneck Past" – 3:43
  8. "Your Most Valuable Possession" (Ben Folds/Darren Jessee/Robert Sledge/Dean Folds/Caleb Southern) – 1:55
  9. "Regrets" – 4:07
  10. "Jane" – 2:42
  11. "Lullabye" (Ben Folds/Anna Goodman) – 3:53

Australian release

  • "(Theme From) Dr. Pyser" (bonus track)

Japanese release

  • "Birds" (bonus track)


Ben Folds Five

Additional personnel


  • Producer: Caleb Southern
  • Mixing: Andy Wallace


Album - Billboard (North America)

Year Chart Position
1999 The Billboard 200 35
Top Internet Albums 3

Singles - Billboard (North America)

Year Single Chart Position
1999 "Army" Modern Rock Tracks 17


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