Best Albums of the 2010s – #10
Lonely Avenue – Ben Folds (2010)
Ben Folds, one of my favorite artists, had a very lean decade. His last solo release was 2015’s So There, an album recorded with the chamber ensemble yMusic that featured a handful of songs plus an orchestral piece. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2010.
But that 2010 album was a doozy. Written in collaboration with novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornby, Lonely Avenue is possibly Folds’ best work outside of Ben Folds Five (and speaking of that trio, 2012 did see a very good reunion album by the band titled The Sound of the Life of the Mind).
Ben Folds wrote a song called ‘Hiroshima’ for his 2008 album Way To Normal. The lyrics describe a time he was performing in Japan and fell off the stage, suffering a semi-serious head injury. He continued playing as blood poured down his face.
Apparently he later returned to Japan and performed that song in Japanese, which is the version presented here. It appeared on an alternate version of Way To Normal called Stems and Seeds, which included different mixes of the original album’s tracks plus other odds and ends.
My top four albums of 2001 are so good that I really could have presented them in any order. I settled on the lineup I did based on a quick dive into each album right here and now, so these rankings reflect my current mood as much as anything.
At #4 is Ben Folds’ first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs. Ben Folds Five had split up a year earlier following the release of their third studio album, and this record marked Folds’ shift into what would become a fascinating and successful solo career.
Ben Folds is such a good songwriter that he can’t deliver a bad tune even when he wants to.
‘One Down’ is about a time Folds’ record company required him to write 4.6 songs in order to fulfill his contract. Apparently he received .4 worth of credit for an earlier co-written song.
He shit this one out (as he colorfully puts it) to chip away at the obligation.
I’m surprised I haven’t already featured Ben Folds’ ‘Zak and Sara,’ either its studio version (from Folds’ 2001 solo debut Rockin’ the Suburbs) or the live version posted today.
This song is a perfect example of Folds’ gift for quick character sketches. I’ve always said that at his lyrical best, his songs are essentially short stories. Short stories sung with sticky melodies over exuberant piano music.
Ah, the very rare instrumental track on a Random Weekend. This one comes from Ben Folds’ last album, So There, which featured eight songs backed by an orchestra as well as Ben’s ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra’ in three movements.
I listened to the full concerto once, after first buying the album, and never again until today. I just don’t find myself reaching for classical or orchestral music, even if I really enjoy it. I find this sort of thing better in the background, whether it’s the background of a movie or everyday life.
I like when animated movies make interesting musical choices. Rufus Wainwright delivered a delightful theme song for Meet the Robinsons, Jack Johnson’s ‘Upside Down’ from Curious George is my favorite song of his. The Shrek films feature a treasure trove of excellent song picks, including Counting Crows’ addictive ‘Accidentally in Love.’
In 2006, Ben Folds got into the game, contributing several songs to the soundtrack of Over the Hedge. It’s a sweet, admittedly forgettable, movie but a great showcase for Folds’ pop chops.