The formula for Lonely Avenue was a simple one: author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) writes the lyrics and Ben Folds composes and performs the music. It’s a novel idea (seriously, the deluxe edition comes housed in a hardbound, 152-page book that features four of Hornby’s short stories and photographs by Guggenheim Fellow Joel Meyerowitz) that works more often than it doesn’t. For the most part, the majority of the songs on Lonely Avenue could have appeared on anything Folds has put out since going solo in 2001. In fact, Hornby’s prose and penchant for cuss words and misunderstood protagonists is nearly indistinguishable from Folds’, who has made a career out of balancing the two since busting out of Chapel Hill in 1995. Both artists are gifted social commentators with a love for snarky, collegiate cynicism that hides a huge sentimental streak. Not surprisingly, it’s the latter predilection that provides Lonely Avenue with its most memorable moments. Folds’ late career turn as a top-notch balladeer has unearthed some real gems, and the lush, lovingly orchestrated “Picture Window” and “Belinda,” the latter of which follows a former one-hit-wonder who has to deliver his signature hit night after night, despite the fact that he ditched “Belinda” for somebody younger with “big breasts, a nice smile and no kids,” are no exception. Other highlights include the loose and likeable “Doc Pomus,” the missed connections rocker “From Above,” and the erratic, Oingo Boingo-meets-AC/DC oddity “Saskia Hamilton,” but misfires like the overblown “Levi Johnston’s Blues” and the weirdly defensive, literary white-boy funk opener “A Working Day” are as uncomfortable and awkward to listen to as they are to read through.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger