Ben Folds & Nick Hornby Ben Folds & Nick HornbyLonely Avenue
Yes, Nick Hornby is the guy from “High Fidelity” (the novel Stephen Frears made into a classic 90’s romantic comedy, that is, John Cusack falling in love with the wrong girl), and yes, Ben Folds (formerly of Ben Folds Five) is his friend. Having dinner one night in London, Ben asked Nick if he could send him a few short stories so that, I don’t know— maybe he could make them into songs? Nick told him he would give it a try. And the rest was a series of e-mails that ended up giving rise to an album. “Lonely Avenue” is Folds’ fourth solo work since the disappearance of his band (more power, less folk), in spirit (deep down, it sounds like Folds, that cross between Billy Joel and any pop singer-songwriter worth his salt—take a less painfully projected Damien Rice as an example), although it should be considered as an experiment apart (if not, Nick would have limited himself to having appeared in the credits). It’s sort of like the writer-musician version of Ward and Deschanel’s She & Him (musician-actress). Because Folds had never sounded so sentimental and at the same time so supposedly narrative.
Because yes, you can tell, even though Hornby and Folds have shared a narrative universe forever. Because Folds doesn’t limit himself to singing, now Folds tells us things. The story of a mother who spends New Year’s Eve in the hospital with her daughter ( “Claire’s Ninth”) or of Doc Pomus’ meteoric career (the illustrious lyricist of glorious hits from the 50’s), in the virtuous and homonymous “Doc Pomus”. And it is clear that both are unspeakably firm defenders of the ballad: anybody who likes to go for a walk (hands in your pockets, head down, the feeling of uprooting at the same time as that of the axis on which the world turns) listening to the perfect soundtrack for the failed love of, say, the 2000 version of John Cusack in “High Fidelity”, Ted Mosby, will enjoy this album. Because 80% of the album is that charming sadness that is not only bearable but at times even addictive ( “Belinda” is the best and most enjoyable example, but they are all around: “Picture Window” , “Practical Amanda” , “Password”). The rest are catchy, luminous plays of choruses ( “Working Day”), songs with a classic rhythm that are especially suitable for mod gangs (the very The Clash “Your Dogs”, almost the best song on the album) and irregular space experiments ( “Saskia Hamilton”).
Folds has said that for him, Hornby’s stories were like one of those oddities that you find on e-Bay. And that they barely needed a little push to become songs. Does this mean that this is the beginning of a beautiful professional (and musical) relationship? Time will tell. For the moment, and for all of those who are fans of Hornby as well as Folds, you should know that there is a limited edition of the album that includes a 150-page booklet with four stories by Hornby (which Folds based the songs on). Definitely, if this union only gives us songs like the vibrant “From Above” (a fabulous sample of post-adolescent easy love pop) or the perfect “Levi Johnston’s Blues” (and his three thousand cameras pointing), it will already have been worth it. Laura Fernández