Razor-Edged Pop

Melt-in-your-mouth melodies and barbed lyrics from the quintessential boy band.

Messner is an ambitious, occasionally compelling effort. Though

not as accessible lyrically as much of Whatever and Ever Amen,

the irresistible hooks and frenetic rhythmic changes are still there.

But rather than recalling Elton John and the Beach Boys, Messner

reaches all over the pop map. There's a touch of the Beatles (a string

quartet plays on more than half the album's songs), some Simon and

Garfunkel flourishes (the sha-la-las and timpani eruptions on "Magic"

are straight from "The Boxer"), lyrical nods to Neil Young, and

variations of Steely Dan's nerdy, white-boy funk.

But the music Messner borrows most heavily from is that of Peter

Gabriel and Genesis. Similar to the Raul character from The Lamb Lies

Down on Broadway, Messner is a misanthropic, self-absorbed and sexist

doppelganger. Folds owes much to Tony Banks' acoustic work on both

Lamb and Selling England By The Pound, the two best

products of Gabriel-era Genesis. Indeed, a handful of songs contain

almost direct quotations of Banks' cascading, dreamy leads on

Lamb's "The Carpet Crawlers."

Virtually every song on the album yields its share of buried treasure.

Folds seems incapable of turning less than two or three pithy phrases

per song. Some of my favorites are to be found on "Army"

(RealAudio excerpt), which is

located in the middle of a five-song mini-suite held together by the

mechanical ping of a prepared piano. "Well I thought about the Army,"

Folds sings over an incessant stride beat. "Dad said, 'Son, you're

fucking high.'" Before the song is over, Messner-as-Folds has joined a

band, gotten a job at Chick-fil-A and been thrown out of said band due

to "artistic differences." Throw in a driving horn section and the

fuzz-tone work of bassist Robert Sledge and you have one great song.

Another of my favorites is "Your Redneck Past"

(RealAudio excerpt), an electronically

tinged tune that recalls a teen-ager's choice of pop icons past,

including Billy Idol and Kool Moe Dee.

Still, Messner ultimately falls short, if only because of the

grand scale of its ambitions. Folds' ironic detachment has been his

saving grace in the past, and he uses it to full effect here as well.

But at the end of the disc you can't escape the fact that it's a

40-minute theme album about a man who feels compelled to tell the world

he loves to sleep ("Narcolepsy"), is afraid of taking risks

(''Regrets'') and really doesn't want to die ("Don't Change Your

Plans" [RealAudio excerpt]).