While we are fundamentally a website for films, we at thisfilmison really just believe in good stories. Film may be our medium of choice but amongst our writers you’ll find those that champion novels, some who prefer TV and others still that like theatre. Music, however, is in all of our blood. And with that in mind we’d like to promote and pay respect to an album as cinematic as any other this year.
With words from our very own Nick Hornby and music from America’s Ben Folds. Here are our thoughts on Lonely Avenue. Seek it out.
A Working Day
Appropriately it’s a sound similar to that of a typewriter tapping away that kickstarts the collaboration. A song for anyone struggling with the faith to put something out there, A Working Day, jumps from self-adulation to crippling self-doubt. Any aspiring writer with a hint of self knowledge, be it fiction or journalism, should chuckle at the lyric, “Some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know. He’s got his own blog“.
Lonely Avenue mixes the cross-Atlanticism of it’s American songwriter with it’s British author with startling ease. Here, however, Ben’s voice serves as conduit for Nick’s Blighty take on things. The only song to reference London explicity (substituting ‘asses’ for ‘backsides’) also contains that intrinsically British appeal of pessimism with a hint of maybe, just maybe. The soft piano is perfectly unobstrusive, putting more weight to Hornby’s argument in 31 Songs that the reason Ben is often disregarded by critics is due to his “sophisticated simplicity”.
Levi Johnston’s Blues
Hornby realised that while good songs contain jokes, “the best way to ruin a joke is to repeat it in the chorus 7 times”. So this ‘tribute’ to Sarah Palin’s son-in-law has a chorus, (“I live to hang out with the boys, play some hockey, do some fishing and kill some moose“), that can espoused by any 18 year-old not wanting to be tied down, regardless of whether or not you’ve just knocked up the next president’s daughter. The duality of Levi’s inherent asshole qualities and the shitty situation he’s gotten himself in play out rousingly.
While the Levi ‘tribute’ was firmly tongue in redneck cheek, this ode to the blues songwriter who wrote Lonely Avenue for Ray Charles (hence the title) is heartfelt yet never maudlin. Crippled by polio, Hornby and Folds see him not as a pitiable man but one who turned his rage and anger into some of the greatest pop songs of all time.
In some ways a catchier, poppier take on Phil Ochs, Love Me I’m A Liberal. Your Dogs tells of an educated man looking down on his neighbour, understanding that he’s had a tough life but wanting him to “be a little more like me”. Full of harmonies and a singalong style.
Says Hornby, “My wife’s name is Amanda. She is practical. She put a bedroom where a urinal used to be. Apart from these strange coincidences, this song is not autobiographical in any way.” And, for the record, Citizen Kane isn’t about William Randolph Hearst. The most gorgeous ballad to ever contain the word urinal since, well, erm, ever. A song for fans of Grand Designs.
Divorce and seperation aren’t unfamiliar to pop music but rarely do they get treated to somewhat uplifting sounds. Claire’s Ninth, the tale of a girl struggling to get a happy birthday from her parents takes on both sides of the story. The sympathy may lie with the just turned 9 year-old but pleadings from (the both divorced) Ben and Nick apologise for how things “got twisted”. The optimism hinted at in the music is contained in the four simple words, “the best of us”. Knowingly, however, these words are only thought not spoken.
What would have been a great, if rather overly obvious choice of, end credit music to this year’s The Social Network, Password typifies the laptop generation in the same way that Fincher’s film managed. Mistaking knowing about someone, for knowing someone, Fold’s choice to make a spelling bee out of each fact proves it further. The message being, you may be able to spell out her mother’s maiden name but do you know what makes her sad at night.
The standout song on the album for a myriad of reasons. First up it’s the most accomplished musically, with female harmonies courtesy of Kate-Miller Heidke, but more importantly it sums up an ethos from both Hornby and Folds. Soulmates, and the search to find them. Taken on an explicit level, From Above, reads exactly like the kind of song that would fuck up Rob Fleming’s (Hornby’s High Fidelity ‘hero’) life. “Heartbeats becoming synchronized and staying that way forever”, if you haven’t got that perfection keep looking, keep ‘bouncing from rock to rock’. But Folds and Hornby’s songs are far too clever for simple readings and so the other side is suggested; Simply, “It doesn’t work that way”.
Again, another biography, but here the poet Saskia Hamilton is namechecked almost solely for her name. “No hard consonents in my girl Saskia!” Echoing Kate from Fold’s Whatever and Ever Amen, here’s a song as fun as it is funny. The Darkness style high notes (Ben once covered, Get Your Hands Off My Woman), synths and some of the best use of wordplay you won’t find in a big fat book of rhymes.
If you search these pages you’ll find a piece on how hard it must have been for Bon Iver to tour an entire album about one girl. Belinda, is that problem magnified. A singer hocking his one hit wonder about the loss of his one true love, over and over and over again. Another brilliantly detailed character from Hornby’s mind.
Every reading above may not be quite on the money, some may be just plain wrong. In many ways that’s the beauty of these two getting together. Hornbys’ words may be untouched by Folds instead simply amplified by the music, but the author knew who he was writing for and to the uninitiated this could easily be a Ben Folds stand alone album. That it’s not is what sets it apart. If a further collaboration occurs in the next 12 months, expect as much praise this time next year.