Folds/Hornby collaborate on new CD (review)

Ben Folds and Nick Hornby
Lonely Avenue
Nonesuch CD

Nick Hornby has written eloquently about pop songs in the novel High Fidelity and the essay collection Songbook. But what happens when he tries his hand at being a lyricist? On Lonely Avenue, his first musical collaboration with singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Hornby makes the leap convincingly, suggesting that he belongs in the musical realm not just as an astute commentator, but as a full-fledged participant.

Of course, it certainly helps that Hornby’s lyrics are married to eloquent, often poignant, music by Folds. Indeed, Lonely Avenue is his most musically ambitious and wide-ranging effort to date; yet it’s uniformly distinguished. Perhaps in response to the rich lyrical terrain he has before him, Folds incorporates a number of stylistic inflections this time out, from savvily arranged seventies pop to undulating minimalism and from sensitive balladry to brash piano punk.

The CD contains at least three “single-worthy” cuts: “Doc Pomus,” “Picture Window,” and “From Above.” Folds’ piano-playing is as supple as ever – he cooks up some brilliant flourishes on “Doc Pomus” and rocks out with abandon on “Your Dogs.” The arrangements highlight Folds’ piano, but also feature strings and effervescent instrumental contributions and backing vocals from the indie pop duo Pomplamoose.

While one hopes that Hornby doesn’t quit writing compelling stories and cultural criticism anytime soon, he’s welcome to keeping work as a lyricist in the rotation!