Why do good musicians feel the need to be so damn musical? Having released two glorious CDs of smart piano-based pop (and one amusing collection of live tracks and obscurities), Ben Folds obviously feels the need to create something bigger and more profound. That something is "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner," a dreary, ballad-heavy concept album that sounds like Supertramp after the talented guys split.
Like most concept albums, "Reinhold Messner" introduces strings and horns to little effect and lacks any discernible plot. The band makes a big deal of shifting volume like an orchestra but constantly obscures the groove in the process. Most regrettably, Folds' lyrics -- usually sharp, critical diatribes as funny as they are infectious -- fall flat cut after cut. The only tracks that succeed are "Army" and "Your Redneck Past." When "Army" opens with "Well I thought about the army/ Dad said Son you're fucking nuts," one can only smile and recall past Folds. Other than that burst, we're left with a CD that's impressive for all the wrong reasons.