What happens when a world famous author and a piano player decide to join forces to make an album? Well in 2009, this unlikely (but not entirely surprising) partnership was first suggested at a dinner party by two mutual friends of Messrs Folds and Hornby who thought it was a good enough idea. After this, Mr Hornby was in a rush to send his lyrical suggestions to Mr Folds so he can work his magic over the author's musings; think about the partnership that exists between Elton John and Bernie Taupin, you will be on the right lines. Now Nick Hornby is no stranger to music, he has written lots of books on the subject; but he has never been a musician. Mr Folds on the other hand seems to be a man who likes to be in control of his own destiny. So will this be the unstoppable object meets the unmovable force?
What we have here is 11 stories condensed into the pop song, a formula that has been done for years but not by an author in this style. Well, that is not strictly true yet it is true enough for this article. Starting with the very short "Working Day" which is if the truth be told one of the worst songs from Ben Folds ever. It just one minute and forty nine seconds which does not work as a song, it is just too disjointed to say the least. It is also quite ironic because part of the words to this song goes "some guy on the net thinks I suck, and he should know; he's got his own blog", it is as if they knew it was coming (warning, the last sentence was laced with sarcasm for a brighter tomorrow). However, the good news is that from that point onwards, it is all up hill, sort of.
You have a few parts of the album which are not that good on delivery - "Password" just seems like a confused Stevie Wonder track about stalking from the 80's and is a little lost on the album (I think it is supposed to be romantic, but it comes off a little creepy) and "Saskia Hamilton" is a big brash futurist keyboard/bass song about someone who is in love with a poet they have never met. It is aiming higher than the delivery to be honest, it just feels a little too forced. Now so far I have been really negative in most respects here, but there are a lot of positives on this album as well as those few negatives.
"Picture Box" - the second song on the album is an album about hoping against hope when someone in the room is passing away before your eyes and it is delivered with the wonderful Ben Folds subtlety that I have came to expect. It is a brilliant yet sorrowful song showing the mixed emotions of the moment. "Claire's Ninth" is a song in two parts again (but this one works): the verses are taking from the point of view of a small girl who's parents have separated and they are both ruining her birthday by acting like themselves, whilst the chorus are the parents wishing she could see it from where they are sitting and the adult complexity of the situation. When the words play is done well, it lifts this album very well. The lead single from this album was called "From Above" which tells the story of two people who would be soul mates, but they just keep missing each other and how it is being viewed from the angels above; it is fun, musically positive and lyrically interesting as well.
You have a few numbers which just rock for the sake of it ("Your Dogs" and "Doc Pomus" just feel more like filler, but in a good way because the music is top class; but the lyrics are a let down on them) and you have a few truly stellar track with "Levi Johnston's Blues" (a song about a redneck getting the daughter of the vice president of the USA pregnant), "Practical Amanda" (a slow ballad about a lady who saved the life of a dreamer) and "Belinda" (a song about a man who ruined his marriage for a cheap affair with someone who doesn't give a shit about him) which ends the album and would have been perfect apart from Elvis Pressley tribute on the end as a secret track, sort of ruins the hard work of the rest of the track but I will let that slide as I get to my point here.
When I first heard this album back in 2010, it was just after I have discovered the joys that is 'Way To Normal' by Mr Folds and was enjoying his back catalogue (both solo and with the Five) and I was also going through a bit of a Nick Hornby book reading phase, purely by coincidence. So hearing about this got me really excited and I was a little left down by the end results, a feeling which still continues to this day if I am honest but not as much. There are some great moments on here, but they tend to be overshadowed by something else on the album that is awful, ruined by extra bits ("Belinda") or the lyrics just don't feel natural enough, like the writer is trying to get everything about the story into a medium that they are not familiar with and they just cannot seem to edit out little bits to make something work. They are both very talented people in their own rights, but when they worked together it was just feels a little too forced and without total commitment - a shame really.
6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Ben Folds website here
You can visit the Nick Hornby website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
You can see the official video for "From Above" to below