Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fountains of Wayne - "Traffic And Weather"

Cross posted at Newcritics.

I’m going to say right out of the gate that I’m a fan of Fountains of Wayne. Like many others, I was vaguely aware of them for some time, mostly due to the fact that co-founder Adam Schlessinger was the author of the wonderful title track from Tom Hank’s “That Thing You Do.” My interest in them was piqued with the 2003 release of their breakthrough record “Welcome Interstate Managers” which contained the surprise hit “Stacy’s Mom.” Suddenly they were everywhere, showing up on NPR and Austin City Limits. It seemed like everyone was asking me if I’d picked the new “FOW” CD. Contrary to the popular saying, in this case “Writing about music” was certainly not as useless as “Dancing about architecture,” because after reading some reviews of “Interstate Managers” I got the feeling that I would like this band very much, and that feeling was proven correct upon first listen.

“Traffic And Weather” is the long-anticipated follow-up to “WIM.” Sure, there was the hastily compiled “Out of State Plates” which contained a couple of newly recorded songs, but was largely composed of odds n’ ends, leftover tracks and B-sides. My complaint with that collection was that they included some trivial recordings that held little appeal to all but their most ardent fans, but left off the rocking “Too Cool For School (“Scary Movie”) and some must-have remakes, most notably “Better Things” (The Kinks) and “Bus Stop” (The Hollies.) (I should point out for the uninitiated that it does contain their brilliant remake of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” which is everything a remake ought to be.)

The new album contains few surprises. That is to say, it sounds as if it could be “Disc 2” from “WIM,” had it been a double CD. If you’re a fan, this need not be a bad thing. The album is rife with the catchy guitar-parts, Beatlesque melodies, lush harmonies and tongue-in-cheek lyrics that we’ve come to expect from Fountains of Wayne. These guys are master craftsmen to be sure, and they draw liberally from the power-pop combos of the 60’s and the classic rock bands of the 70’s. One notable difference between this one and their previous effort is that former contained a number a songs that were obvious “tip o’ the hats” to some of their favorites from years gone buy. The aforementioned “Stacy’s Mom” was a letter-perfect homage to The Cars, and “Bright Future In Sales” sounded like The Steve Miller Band with a better lyricist. The songs on “Traffic and Weather” are less obvious tributes to any one band in particular, but contain references to The Beatles in particular, and classic rock bands in general.

Many listeners, and even some professional critics don’t really understand songwriters Adam Schlessinger (bass and backing vocals) and Chris Collingwood’s (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) lyrical perspective. I’ve heard their lyrics described as “mean-spirited” and “sophomoric,” but I think people that hold those opinions are totally missing the mark. I view FOW as a kinder gentler version of Steely Dan. Aside from the obvious differences in musical style, lyrically both songwriting teams focus on mini-character studies, often told in the first person. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan) tend to write about society’s underbelly – sexual perverts, criminals, drug addicts and losers - and are openly derisive of them. Donald Fagen presents those lyrics with his patented sneer, laced with sarcasm. Collingwood and Schlessinger on the other hand are more interested in the average Joe. While many of their songs at first listen appear to be sarcastic, after living with them for awhile you start to get the feeling that they are more ironic and sympathetic to the foibles and flaws of their protagonists. They know what is like to lust after the girl at the Motor Vehicle Bureau (“Yolanda Hayes,”) and kid themselves that they impressed her. They dreamed of cruising girls in a muscle car but had to settle for a used Japanese import (“’92 Suburu.”) They’ve suffered the indignity of being cuckolded by guys “wearing light-blue docker pants” (“This Better Be Good.”)

“Traffic and Weather” goes down easy on first listen and gets better over time. Is it going to change anyone’s opinion of Fountains of Wayne? Will it out-sell “Welcome Interstate Managers?” Does it explore new uncharted musical territory for the group? I’d say “no” to all three questions, but if you’re hungry for some well crafted, thoroughly enjoyable slice-of-life pop expertly played and recorded, look no further. The songs on “Traffic And Weather” are perfect for cruising down the highway at 65 M.P.H on a beautiful day, even if (or perhaps especially if) you are driving in a beat-up old Suburu. B+

“Someone to Love.”


Blogger Mr. Wizard said...

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

7:49 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Glad to hear it!

3:37 PM  
Blogger Sticky said...

Fountains of Shit!

11:43 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Glad to see you're not dead!

3:14 PM  

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