In his collection of music essays, Songbook, Nick Hornby singled out Ben Folds for the haunting “Smoke,” praising him for the track’s simple lyrical perfection. The only problem is that those lyrics were written by Folds’ ex-wife Anna Goodman. It’s the kind of unintended, villain-free slight that’s song fodder for Folds, who’s forever on the prowl for fresh targets to rebuke. Lonely Avenue, the geeky dream mash-up of lyrics by the author of High Fidelity and tunes by the perpetually pissed-off pianist, is unsurprisingly chock-a-block with character studies, but they often sink their venom into abstractions instead of specific people (“Picture Window”), or are at least willing to look beyond punchline potential in their search for poignancy (“Levi Johnston’s Blues”). “Some guy on the Net thinks I suck and he should know / He’s got his own blog” from “A Working Day” is certainly bald enough to be a Folds broadside, but it abandons its tuneful gurgle before the barbs can really sink in, and “From Above” busily ruminates on the lives of a couple who would have been perfect for each other if only time and circumstance hadn’t intervened. More sweet than cynical on this outing, Folds and Hornby are perfectly complementary as a pair of smart-asses with sentimental sides.