If Ben Folds has a weakness, it’s not his lyrics. Through his career, he’s done serious (“Brick,” was based on his girlfriend’s abortion), goofy (“Rockin’ the Suburbs” mocks the challenges of “being male, middle class, and white”), and everything in between. His clever verbosity is one of the key elements that keep bringing Folds’ fans back.
Yet Nick Hornby—the music-loving novelist responsible for High Fidelity and About a Boy—wrote all the lyrics for Lonely Avenue, which Folds then transformed into an 11-song collection.
The upbeat pop tunes jump to life like a room of bouncy balls. “Working Day” reflects the emotional highs and lows of one day of work in less than two minutes. “Levi Johnston’s Blues,” a song about Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, comes a little too late to be timely; nonetheless, it hilariously interprets Johnson’s point of view. As Folds haphazardly chugs on a stuttered drumbeat and bluntly yelps, “I’m a fuckin’ redneck, I live to hang out with the boys/Play some hockey, do some fishing, kill some moose,” Hornby’s mixed sympathy and mockery of the teenage boy charms.
Still, most of Lonely Avenue is a collection of swelling ballads that heave like a hefty cry, further enhanced with string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. “Picture Window,” “Claire’s Ninth,” and “Belinda” are intimate narratives a sick child, the damage of divorce, and life of a one hit wonder. The latter is not something Folds or Hornby will ever have to worry about, and while Lonely Avenue isn’t a crowning glory for either, it is yet another inspired work to add to their collection.