Nick Hornby, Ben Folds pair up on new release
On Sept. 24, Nick Hornby and Ben Folds released their album Lonely Avenue. Hornby wrote the lyrics and Folds composed and performed the music. To some, this may sound like the best two things put together since peanut butter and jelly – and, well, it is. From start to finish, their 11-song LP is pure sonic and lyrical bliss.
Although I’ve only read part of Hornby’s High Fidelity, his tone comes off as cynical, informed, and quite crass – not so different from Folds’ style on Rockin’ the Suburbs.
Arguably Folds’ best album, Rockin’ the Suburbs is a commentary on the lives of white, middle-class and painfully bored Americans, and he used his knack for vulgar yet intelligent lyrics to attack problems in late-1990s suburbia. At times, Lonely Avenue sounds like that album but with an extra layer of depth to the lyrics due to Hornby’s collaboration.
The first track, “Working Day,” opens the album with an explosive start, featuring loud synths and drums. “Picture Window” returns the listener to the familiar Folds’ sound with a particularly sad, memorable chorus: “Hope is a bastard/ Hope is a liar, a cheat, and a tease.”
“Levi Johnston Blues” criticizes American men and their tendency to want to be looked upon as “one of the guys” who like to “shoot the shit.” The fourth track, “Doc Pomus,” features a particularly catchy, quirky piano riff.
“Your Dogs” is definitely a standout track – a silly, fun rock ballad that balances the album. “Practical Amanda” returns the album to a more vulnerable, piano-based Folds sound. “Claire’s Ninth” is a gorgeous pop song, putting emphasis on Folds’ falsetto.
One of the weaker songs of the album is “Password,” a song that experiments with shimmering psychedelic synths and poignant lyrics but seems to lead up to the climax -“From Above”.
“From Above” is my favorite song of the album, immediately catchy and smartly arranged. The loudest track of the album, “Saskia Hamilton,” at times sounds like it belongs on a Gogol Bordello album – without the Ukrainian accents, of course.
“Belinda,” the closing track of the album, is “a song about a girl” at its best. Strings and piano build upon the tender lyrics until a final resolution. Or so one would think. After a long silence, a loud retro-rock riff emerges as a reprise to “Belinda.” It seems almost like an acknowledgement of the variety that Folds brings into each of his albums – a variety that only a master like Folds could pull off.
The genesis of Lonely Avenue began when Hornby wrote an essay explaining how Folds was one of the greatest singer/songwriters of our time. Folds, in turn, respected Hornby’s work, so they then began working together.
I’m not as familiar with Hornby’s work, but as for Folds, I can safely say that Lonely Avenue is his best release since Rockin’ the Suburbs and it is certainly one of the best albums of the year.