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Lonely Avenue CD
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Lonely Avenue is a collaboration between Ben Folds and music-obsessed novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, 31 Songs). Hornby provided the lyrics for 11 songs, which Folds then set to music and recorded in his Nashville studio. Joining Folds in the studio at various points were his own band, a string section, and legendary arranger Paul Buckmaster.
Lonely Avenue offers equal measures of humour and pathos in often deceptively cheerful songs. Folds gives voice to Hornby's endearingly mixed up, lovelorn characters, who come across as sympathetic even at their most hapless. An aging pop singer has to endlessly and agonizingly reprise his one hit, a paean to a woman he left years ago, to the fans who still attend his shows ("Belinda"). A mother deliberately avoids a stunning view of New Years Eve fireworks as she ministers to her seriously ill child in a London hospital ("Picture Window"). Hornby reconstructs the world of crippled, Brill Building-era songwriter Doc Pomus circa 1962 ("Doc Pomus"), and imagines, with unexpected tenderness, the moment when Alaskan teenager Levi Johnston discovered he'd impregnated the newly announced vice-presidential candidate's daughter, Bristol Palin ("Levi Johnston's Blues").
In his 2002 book 31 Songs, a semi-autobiography testified through the prism his record collection, Nick Hornby remarked that he writes books because he can’t write songs. Lonely Avenue tests this characteristic self-deprecation, Hornby providing lyrics for music by Ben Folds (a Folds tune, Smoke, was among Hornby’s 31).
Hornby is running at a high bar – since emerging in the mid-90s, Folds has been a consistently enthralling songwriter. Consciously or not, it’s perhaps for this reason that Hornby – no stranger, as a novelist, to narrating from third-person viewpoints – writes uncannily like Folds. Had Hornby’s participation not been advertised, it’s unlikely anyone would have suspected the hand of a collaborator. The scenarios are Folds’ familiar palette of wry character sketches and sharply observed domestic dramas, and the vernacular is deliberately American English.
Lonely Avenue is not an unalloyed triumph. Obvious talking point Levi Johnston’s Blues, a semi-Springstonian lament from the perspective of the father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild, bristling against the shotgun in the back of his wedding tux – The River reset in Wasilla – rings hollow, and Folds somewhat overdoes the bombast. The Hold Steady-ish Your Dogs, all wo-ah choruses and fidgety electric keys, also overcooks itself.
The more restrained moments, however, are gorgeous. Belinda is a sumptuous ballad with a beautifully observed lyric, about a one-hit-wonder artist who cruelly ditched the woman he wrote his one hit about, but is stuck singing sentiments to which he no longer subscribes. The joyously rueful shuffle From Above is clearly intended as a companion to Tom Waits’ immortal ships-that-passed lament Martha, sympathising with the equally thwarted people with whom Waits’ protagonists actually spent their lives.
This is an affecting and intelligent record: neither Folds nor Hornby should be shy about suggesting a sequel.--Andrew Mueller
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Top customer reviews
Is that a bad thing?
No. While I've never really got along with Nick Hornby's somewhat self-congratulatory writing (and as someone who works in a record shop, take it from me - it's nothing like High Fidelity), on this album Hornby's four-minute tales of pain, loss, guilt and crushed wonder are exceptional and you have to wonder why he hasn't ventured into this arena before. From Above is perfect wistful pop, and the lyrical hooks stick in your head - "maybe that's how books get written, maybe that's why songs get sung" indeed. Belinda is the 70s hit that never was, as much suited to Manilow as to Elton; even the brash and sweary (natch) Levi Johnston's Blues sounds more like a glitter-stomp in places.
And, perhaps freed from having to bang on about his own relationships (as many suspect he was doing on Way To Normal), Folds himself relaxes and thinks more about the music. This album sits perfectly alongside Reinhold Messner and Songs For Silverman in tone and theme and is highly recommended.
Still not something you can play with the kids around though, unless you really do want them running about singing the virtues of being a redneck...
Ben Folds is a long favourite of mine; he combines a lack of reverence for being placed in a single musical genre with a willingness to take chances (like William Shatner's Has Been which Ben Produced) and all that appeals to my wide taste for music. Lonely Avenue has a good mix of energy and musical styles- matched with Nick's lyrics - that have made it a great album for me.
Having read through the notes and listened to it quite a few times now I like to imagine that Nick deliberately wrote things to make Ben's life hard - at least thats how I explain the lyrics "No hard consonants in my girl Saskia, Every single syllable sounds like Shakespeare." In comparison to the rest of my iTunes library I think Nick has written a less depressing Luke Haines style songs - the songs are on topics that interest him and encourage the listener to get onto google to find out more about the people.
The cover notes are excellent with each song getting a paragraph of explanation from Nick explaining the Origin. I would dearly like to hear a follow up to this album, but I fear Mr Folds will move on challenging himself and us further.
But when you actually take the time to really listen to this album (I had it on my Ipod) then you realize the beauty of the song or should I say musical stories.
After a few listens these songs really stood out.
>A Working Day - The first track, at less than 2 minutes its more of an introduction tune, however Hornby is spot on with the lyrics which are hilarious and Ben arranges the music perfectly. My favorite line from the album "Some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know, he's got his own blog".
>Picture Window - This song is tragic, Hornby's lyrics paints us a picture of a mother in hospital with her dying son and trying not to get her hopes up just to get them crushed. It'll definitely grab at your heartstrings.
>Levi Johnston's Blues, This is a lot of fun based on the boy who had a one night stand with Sarah Palin's daughter and was expected to change his religious views and grow up apparently the funny; insanely catchy chorus is from his tweets.
>Your Dogs - We all have that neighbor who blares out their music or makes too much noise, hopefully it's you with this track on full volume. Ben pounds away on his piano to perfection, every key is hit perfectly, real funky, funny tune.
>Practical Amanda - This is a lovely song, most couples will have the practical one and the dreamer. Hornby may not have the voice to sing this too his wife but Ben does beautifully, he sings with passion in this one. And when he belts out "I've got no time for dates and plans, no I'm to busy dreaming" You'll have goosebumps everywhere.
>Belinda - It's about an aged singer who's one hit is about his ex, and everytime he sings this song it reminds him of how he messed up. Not only is this beautiful but there's a hidden version of it probably suggesting what the song that the singer sings would sound like, it's like a cross between Elvis and The Doors. Funky stuff.
But then you've gotta wonder does Ben feel this way when he sings The Luckiest or Brick it reminds him of his failed marriage or his abortion it's truly sad to think this. It's no wonder so many singers suffer from depression.
Anyway to summarize Hornby does a fantastic job with the lyrics, making them comical, multilayered stories. He also doesn't stick to the conventional ABABAB rhyming scheme, in fact in most songs he doesn't rhyme, that's because he's a author not a songwriter and these are stories.
Ben Folds arranges the music perfectly even the strings, backing vocals, pianos ,drums, sound effects are all perfect. And Ben Folds does his best singing since Rockin' the Suburbs in my opinion.
This is a sort of project that should be repeated. I want a lonely Avenue 2.0, it wouldn't take too much time, because they never both have to be present. That's the crazy thing about this album, it's all done by Email but it sounds tighter then most bands albums nowadays.
(The only advice I would give was to not swear so much in songs, in a couple it works but in songs like Practical Amanda they just end up putting some dirt on an otherwise perfect song)
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