Lonely Avenue (Ben Folds & Nick Hornby) – ☆☆☆☆ out of 5

As Printed in The Lumberjack on Oct. 14, 2010

The prolific Nick Hornby (writer of High Fidelity, About a Boy and Juliet, Naked) wrote the lyrics, and the brilliant Ben Folds (alternative rock pianist and composer) wrote the music. The result is Lonely Avenue, a mostly remarkable album that should suit any fans of both the novelist and the piano rocker, but also attract those uninitiated with Folds’ patented slamming piano/bluesy/jazz compositions.

Hornby is one of the great pop culture novelists of our time, and his lyrics are not unlike that of Mr. Folds himself, allowing an easy jump for long-time listeners of the piano rocker. Lonely Avenue comes off as a sprawling look at modern melancholy, with Hornby creating a variety of character-themed songs, and Folds laying his lyrics to a variety of beats. The songs range from sweet piano melodies (“Belinda,” “Picture Window,” “Claire’s Ninth”) to slamming pop beats (“Your Dogs,” “From Above”) to even the occasional jazzy tunes (“Levi Johnston’s Blues”). The final product is a rich and interesting album, a mostly-sweet synecdoche of talents that results in a vast and note-worthy listening experience.

If the album isn’t entirely cohesive, it’s in the nature of the production. The teaming for Lonely Island was one where Hornby wrote the lyrics and emailed them to Folds, who then wrote, produced, and performed the music. As a result, Folds is sometimes forced to fit square pegs in round holes, as is the case with “Passwords” and “Doc Pomus.” I can’t help but think the tried and true method of hunkering down in a secluded place, getting hammered, banging hookers and making music would have smoothed out some of those rough edges.

Regardless, Hornby is a talented lyricist in the same way he is a talented writer, and he mostly complements the punchy, piano-pounding Folds. Lonely Avenue is perhaps the most modern album I’ve heard in years, with incredible juxtapositions between the new world of human relationships and the classic archetypes of troubled suburban America. Even when Levi Johnson is a forgotten relic of the blogosphere (already happened?), this will be an album that influences songwriters and composers for years to come, and marks both another first-rate album for Folds and a solid lyrical debut for Hornby.

Best tracks: Picture Window, Your Dogs, Belinda, Claire’s Ninth

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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