Cratedigger

Ben Folds and Nick Hornby - Lonely AvenueThe news of an impending collaboration between indie music darling Ben Folds and the acclaimed British novelist Nick Hornby was intriguing to say the least. That collaboration has now resulted in an album called Lonely Avenue, and I’m pleased to report that it more than lives up to expectations. I am also happy to tell you that you can win your very own vinyl copy of the new album courtesy of Nonesuch Records. Just read through to the end to find out how.

There are few artists today who can deliver up a wistful melody and break your heart in its delivery better than Ben Folds. In lyricist Hornby however, Folds has found a foil who won’t let him get away with easy sentiment. In fact, Hornby never makes it easy for Folds at all. There are no glib rhymes, and Folds must have found it challenging to fit some of the lyrics into the format of a song, but he makes it work.

Folds’ way with a beautiful melody is in evidence here on a song like “Picture Window,” but lyrically Hornsby spins a sad tale of someone checking into a hospital for what might be the final time (“You know what hope is? Hope is a bastard. Hope is a liar, a cheat, and a tease.”) while fireworks light the sky over London. “Practical Amanda” relates the sad tale of someone who might be missing out on life’s big picture because she is sweating the small stuff. In “Password” the narrator tries to convince his loved one that he’s been paying attention all along, but then realizes that he really hasn’t been paying attention at all. In the album-closing “Belinda” a “one hit wonder with no hits” shares his regret over having left the person he really loved because he “met somebody younger on a plane. She had big breasts, and a nice smile. No kids either. She gave me extra complementary champagne.”

My favorite song on the album though is the delightful “Claire’s Ninth,” in which the title character is forced to share the her birthday with her estranged parents, who no longer seem to know each other. Here Hornby’s lyrics are pointed directly at the heart of the lost American dream. It’s no coincidence that the song is set in the one-time dreamland of Los Angeles. Folds chips in a spritely melody, and stacks Beach Boys-like harmonies into the chorus. It’s pure pop perfection.

Folds and Hornby share a penchant for commentary, sometimes ironic, on popular culture. That tendency is in full bloom on Lonely Avenue with songs that pay tribute to a certain Alaskan named Levi Johnston, Jr., the great songwriter Doc Pomus, and the American poet Saskia Hamilton (if you don’t know who she is, well there’s the irony). Speaking of making it difficult, in “Saskia Hamilton” Folds is called upon to rhyme “idyllic” with “dactylic” but somehow he pulls it off.

I like this album a lot. I am very happy to be able to share a vinyl copy with one lucky listener. To win, all you have to do is send an e-mail to ken@popdose.com with the word “contest” in the subject line, and the answer to the following question in the body:

In 2002, Nick Hornby published a book called Songbook. It included 30 essays on pop songs. One of those essays was on a certain Ben Folds song. What is the title of that song?

The deadline for entries is Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. eastern time. At that time I will choose one winner at random from all of the correct entries. This contest is open to readers with valid U.S. mailing address only.