Lonely Avenue is, after just a couple of listens, already my favourite Ben Folds album since Rockin' The Suburbs. Just like his first solo album there is a wonderful mix of the big and goofy, and the quiet and beautiful - both of which he's a real master at. There are bombastic numbers stuffed with layer upon layer of instrumentation and backing vocals like the frankly insane ode to poet Saskia Hamilton, and the radio-friendly 'From Above' about missed-opportunities ("sure we all have soul-mates but we walk past them everyday"). And then there are the smaller, simpler tracks like 'Belinda' - check out the lyrics to see the callbacks (forward?) to Juliet, Naked - and stand-out number 'Picture Window'; and it's on these tracks in particular that Nick's words and Ben's melodies work together wonderfully well.
What ties both types of song together on this album though, is that they are both equally blessed with some of the best choruses Ben has ever written. Perhaps it's because he has been able to work solely on the tunes, he has made them as instantly hummable as he can, and it means that even the tracks that aren't up to the standard of, say, 'Picture Window' still get kickass choruses - especially 'Doc Pomus' and 'Your Dogs.'
Listening to the album again as I type, I'm shamelessly flip-flopping in terms of which is my favourite song. 'Levi Johnston's Blues', written from the point of the view of the Alaskan teen who - as Hornby puts it - "knocked up the VP nominee's daughter" during the last presidential election, is a whole heap of fun, but then 'From Above' has an amazing middle-eight, 'Picture Window' is heartbreaking, and 'Password', about a boyfriend's attempts to hack into his partner's email account, has a real feeling of 'Rockin' The Suburbs' B-side 'Girl' about it - and that's a very good thing indeed. This isn't a new direction for Ben Folds - and if you're not already a fan, it's unlikely to convert you now - but it's a great showcase for what he does best: amazing tunes.