Wednesday, February 16, 2011

pop*eye...Ben Folds and Nick Hornby—Lonely Avenue (2010)


Ben Folds and
Nick Hornby

Lonely Avenue (2010)

*I proud to highly

Bob Dylan wrote most of Desire with a playwright, but collaborations between musicians and literary figures are usually pretty painful. This one isn't without promise: Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity is a music-geek classic, and Ben Folds is great at turning wordy lyrics into crafty pop. But formal knowledge works against them as they go from unfunny Randy Newman ("Levi Johnston's Blues") to too-cute Barry Manilow ("Belinda") to overdone Elvis Costello ("Password," about breaking into a girlfriend's e-mail). Folds doesn't do a bad job shaping Hornby's clunky song prose, but even Dylan couldn't do much with "Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease/Hope comes near you/Kick its backside."

Sarah Palin's daughter's baby daddy must be friggin' stoked, bro: On "Levi Johnston Blues," Lonely Avenue's two knights of music nerd-dom use their disarming pop smarts to wryly sympathize with the hapless Playgirl cover boy. The empathy and humor run throughout: With Folds as his tuneful voice, Hornby describes a prim suburbanite's tolerance of his porn-watching metalhead neighbor ("Your Dogs"); laments a singer forced to reprise his only hit about an ex ("Belinda"); and feels for a wheelchair-bound, Brill Building-era songwriter ("Doc Pomus"). It's okay, man. It's okay.

Back in 2002, the English novelist Nick Hornby published a collection of 31 short essays documenting how different songs have influenced his life. '31 Songs' is a fascinating read; very well written offering the reader a unique insight into the mind of a music lover, and how this love of music can carry the listener through any hardship.Amongst the tracks chosen by Hornby to describe his life was 'Smoke' by the alternative indie rock trio Ben Folds Five, which held the most resonance in the collection due to the subtle lyrical connotations depicting the breakdown of marriage. This appreciation fused a friendship between Hornby and Folds resulting finally in 2010 with the masterpiece, Lonely Avenue.
The album, only released in the United States currently, contains eleven tracks with all lyrical content written by Nick Hornby and all music performed by Ben Folds. This inspired marriage instantly gives the collection an intelligent narrative, enforced with a strong piano led musicality, turning each song into a beautiful crafted short story. This quality can be found throughout the album, especially in the bitter sweet 'Picture Window', the soulful character portrait of 'Practical Amanda' and the tale of childhood innocence in 'Claires Ninth', which was actually Hornby's first ever short story. The most prominent of which being 'Doc Pomus'; a driving melody and rhythm referencing the 1960's songwriter, whose story provides this collaborations namesake. There is no doubt that the Hornby/Folds union is hugely effective, and indeed watertight, with attributes of both artist's mentality seeping through in signature tracks, such as the witty 'Saskia Hamilton' and the angst laden 'A Working Day'; a brief rant at any critical rejection that has stained both the writers' lives. However, the best example of this combined genius has to be the upbeat sun beam of 'From Above'. This gem lyrically explains how we all go through our lives, unknowingly connecting and interacting with the perfect 'love-of-our-lives', and how this naivety can be seen from an outside view, "It's so easy from above, you can really see it all, People who belong together lost and sad and small, But there's nothing to be done for them, it doesn't work that way, sure we all have soul mates, but we walk passed them every day." This song is a true testament to the work of both artists as it not only stands as a quintessential Hornby statement, but also displays a fine piece of anthemic melodic songwriting from Folds, placing itself comfortably amongst his previous work.
This album does something wonderfully unique in that it brings together fans of both a novelist and an alternative singer-songwriter, in joint admiration for the written word. Long time readers of Nick Hornby's novels will find this album interesting and a joy, but may long to hear more from each 'story'. Whereas, followers of Ben Folds' work will definitely discover that Lonely Avenue is very much a trademark of his, with it's rich blend of piano tinged melody and experimentation in musical styles.
This fusion of Hornby's delicate and honest story telling coupled with Fold's fine musicality truly is a masterpiece and provides a glorious easy listen, for new and old fans. In many ways, it leaves the listener wanting more, and with the curiosity of why this kind of collaborative effort isn't done more often.

Ben Folds (l.) and Nick Hornby (r.) collaborated to make 'Lonely Avenue.'

Piano man, High Fidelity scribe feel for underdogs.


'Ultimately, Lonely Avenue simply works perfectly.'

- Nick Hornby -
"One of my personal
favorite Novelist!"


“Made by two music lovers, for music lovers everywhere!”

the portastylistic

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