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Ben Folds & Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue
by Cory Perla
Ben Folds & Nick Hornby
Collaborations can be tricky. Talent from both ends is certainly important, but chemistry is the key. Remember “Ebony & Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder? Two of the greatest singer-songwriters in a generation collaborated to make a really corny song.
Collaboration is a risk, but it’s a risk that can pay off. On his latest studio album, Lonely Avenue, singer-songwriter Ben Folds took a risk, and the chemistry is evident. This is not Ben Fold’s first collaboration, but it is his first collaboration under his own name. And interestingly, the collaboration is with an author, not a musician. English author Nick Hornby, the man who penned the popular movie novels High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch, stepped in to write the lyrics for Lonely Avenue, and, as might be expected, his words are less lyrical in tone and have much more of a flowing, story-telling feel. Yet Hornby’s writing style is surprisingly similar to Folds’, as he drops in plenty of biting social commentary and sarcastic pop-culture references.
With Folds focusing entirely on musical composition the album goes beyond the standard guitar-on-the-back, piano-in-front formula that put Folds on the map with albums like Rockin’ the Suburbs. The instrumentation shifts from bopping grand piano to electronic synthesizer and swelling, cinematic strings. Those legendary pop masters, Wonder and McCartney, obviously sit somewhere in Folds’ mind as well while he writes. “From Above,” a song about love affairs gone nowhere, is surprisingly reminiscent of Wonder’s “Part Time Lover,” while “Your Dogs,” a bouncing, indie-pop tune, ultimately breaks down into a refrain of “bop bop bop, she wanna, she wanna wanna.”
Don’t confuse some obvious influences for lack of inspiration though. There is a lot of variety on Lonely Avenue, with songs ranging from piano ballads like “Belinda” and “Practical Amanda,” to the frantic synth-pop on “Saskia Hamilton” and the near R&B on “Password.” The song titles themselves tell a story too, with more than half the songs tagged with characters’ names. Folds is like a photographer who has turned from shooting landscapes to portraits, pushed outside of his comfort zone by Hornby’s descriptive, pop-culture-influenced prose, and a new freedom to structure songs that tell a story through their notes and tones as well as their words. Folds flourishes on this album, and his curious choice to collaborate with an author, when Folds himself is recognized by fans for his words, is a trick that pays off.
Catch Ben Folds on tour with his band when they make their stop at Town Ballroom on Friday (Nov. 12).blog comments powered by Disqus
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v9n45 (week of Thursday, November 11) > Left of the Dial > Ben Folds & Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue
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