Back in 2002, English novelist Nick Hornby published a collection of 31 short essays documenting how different songs have influenced his life. 31 Songs is a fascinating read; very well written, offering the reader a unique insight into the mind of a music lover and how his love of music can carry him through any hardship. Amongst the tracks chosen by Hornby to describe his life was Smoke by the alternative indie rock trio Ben Folds Five, which held the most resonance in the collection due to the subtle lyrical connotations depicting the breakdown of marriage. This appreciation fused a friendship between Hornby and Folds, resulting finally in 2010 with their collaboration,Â Lonely Avenue.
The albumÂ contains eleven tracks with all lyrical content written by Nick Hornby and all music performed by Ben Folds. This inspired marriage instantly gives the collection an intelligent narrative, enforced with a strong piano-led musicality, turning each song into a beautifully crafted short story. This quality can be found throughout the album, especially in the bitter-sweet ‘Picture Window’, the soulful character portrait of ‘Practical Amanda’ and the tale of childhood innocence in ‘Claire’s Ninth’, which was actually Hornby’s first ever short story. The most striking track on the album is ‘Doc Pomus’; a driving melody and rhythm referencing the 1960s songwriter, whose story provides this collaboration’s namesake.
There is no doubt that the Hornby/Folds union is hugely effective, with attributes of both artists’ mentality seeping through in signature tracks, such as the witty ‘Saskia Hamilton’ and the angst laden ‘A Working Day’; a brief rant at any critical rejection that has stained both the writers’ lives. However, the best example of this combined genius has to be the upbeat sunbeam of ‘From Above’. This gem lyrically explains how we all go through our lives, unknowingly connecting and interacting with the perfect ‘love-of-our-lives’, and how this naivety can be seen from an outside view:
“It’s so easy from above, you can really see it all,
People who belong together lost and sad and small,
But there’s nothing to be done for them, it doesn’t work that way,
Sure we all have soul mates, but we walk past them every day.”
This song is a true testament to the work of both artists, as it not only stands as a statement that is quintessentially Hornby, but also displays a fine piece of anthemic melodic songwriting from Folds, placing itself comfortably amongst his previous work.
This album does something wonderfully unique in that it brings together fans of both a novelist and an alternative singer-songwriter in joint admiration for the written word. Long time readers of Nick Hornby’s novels will find this album interesting and a joy, but may long to hear more from each ‘story’, whereas, followers of Ben Folds’ work will definitely discover that Lonely Avenue is very much a trademark of his, with it’s rich blend of piano tinged melody and experimentation in musical styles.
This fusion of Hornby’s delicate and honest story-telling coupled with Fold’s fine musicality truly is a masterpiece and provides a gloriously easy listen for new and old fans alike. In many ways, it leaves the listener wanting more, a result for both artists involved. Ultimately, Lonely Avenue simply works perfectly because it has been made by two music lovers, for music lovers everywhere.