BEN FOLDS: LONELY AVENUE (2010)
1) A Working Day; 2) Picture Window; 3) Levi Johnston's Blues; 4) Doc Pomus; 5) Your Dogs; 6) Practical Amanda; 7) Claire's Ninth; 8) Password; 9) From Above; 10) Saskia Hamilton; 11) Belinda.
"Some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know / He's got his own blog". Do you happen to have an idea whom he is referring to? I mean, surely guys with blogs have so much more important things to write about than whether or not Ben Folds sucks... oh wait a minute.
Actually, I really hate how he put that line in the very first song on the album, because now I am confused and I do not properly understand whether this album sucks because it sucks, or whether it sucks because he just happened to piss off the reviewer right away. Well, okay, maybe not «sucks» as such, but as Ben Folds grows older, it seems to be taking more and more and more time to warm up to every next album, and time has just went up from gold to platinum these days, so I will just say this: Lonely Avenue, the result of Ben's productive collaboration with novelist Nick Hornby, is strictly one for the fans, rather than for guys with blogs.
First of all, the idea of pulling the author of About A Boy into the world of Ben Folds seems about as strange an idea as, say, Bob Dylan's collaboration with Jacques Levy on Desire — Folds may not be an undeniably super-great lyricist, but there was never anything particularly wrong with his lyrical expression, either, and if you weren't informed, or an analytical expert on Folds' syntactic preferences, you might not detect an «outsider»'s lyrical presence on here in the first place — we still get the same old slices of everyday life dragged through the same impressionist / existentialist poetic filters. So it is really Nick Hornby complaining about the anonymous blogger, but it could have easily been Ben himself. So it is Nick who pokes fun at the name ʽSaskia Hamiltonʼ (I wonder if the real Saskia Hamilton, who had only just won the Guggenheim Fellowship, took any offense?), but how would an idea like that not be capable of being generated in the already corrupt, degenerate, and deeply offensive brain of Ben Folds?..
Although the point of this collaboration is sort of obscure, in itself, this is certainly not a problem. The problem is that the music seems to be lacking; even more than that, it seems to be somewhat lifeless. Maybe, having agreed to write the music to a different person's words, Ben was simply unable to find the right match. Maybe he wanted to have himself an «Elton and Bernie» kind of an affair that was a long time coming, but if so, he forgot that Elton never had any lyrical talent from the very beginning, and that the whole «Elton and Bernie» thing started off and developed as a coherent two-headed hybrid. Here, it's more like, «oh, another batch of words, let me quickly generate some backing for it and get into character».
Naturally, the overall sound is quintessential Ben Folds — the poppy piano, the soft vocals, the harmony overdubs, the occasional orchestration (and as if they needed yet another argument for my «Elton and Bernie» theory, no less than Paul Buckmaster himself, Elton's old orchestral guru, is credited for conducting and arranging strings). But most of this stuff is very by-the-book Ben Folds — sentimental ballads that range from weakly dynamic (ʽPicture Windowʼ, where string crescendos do help out some) to utterly generic and forgettable (ʽClaire's Ninthʼ — generic hookless indie pap whose dynamics, in contrast, only help it get more mushy). Sometimes it even borders on atmospheric adult contemporary (ʽPasswordʼ, whose words, or, rather, spellings sound more interesting than the lazy music).
In the end, the only two good things on the record are Buckmaster's orchestrations, which, amazingly, still sound inspiring after all those years (the album closer ʽBelindaʼ almost justifies its personal-epic pretense because of those), and ʽDoc Pomusʼ, a touching tribute to the man, one of whose songs gave name to the entire album — although I would much rather hear Ben do a cover of ʽLonely Avenueʼ than sing about half of these romantic puddles. In its defense, I can only bring up the obvious — apart from the spoiled-brat pissed-off opener, Lonely Avenue is a kind, humanistic, introspective, caressing work that will please the underdog and may offer some light additional psychotherapy to fans of Badly Drawn Boy and the like. Unfortunately, I happen to be pinching myself from falling asleep — which, in this case, is sufficient reason for a thumbs down, since it never happened before with any other Ben Folds album so far.
Check "Lonely Avenue" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Lonely Avenue" (MP3) on Amazon