It would be a mistake to write too much into
Fountains of Wayne. It would require a level of brooding self-absorption
beyond my kin to turn this band into any sort of harbinger of
meaning. They just don’t write that kind of music. They write
upbeat, mid-tempo guitar pop flushed out with generous portions
of retro-80s synthesizer. They use handclap percussion, three
part harmonies, copious amounts of “OOOOOOOOs” and “AAAAHHHHHHHs”
and classic pop hooks; many, many hooks. It’s like a fishing
supply store there are so many hooks.
All of this wraps around Chris Collingwood’s simile heavy vocals
to create the smirkiest pop you’re ever likely to love. Collingwood
writes lyrics seeped in overly literate, bored suburban passive
aggression, a theme he had perfected on the band’s self-titled
debut back in 1996 and that has carried through the band’s entire
catalogue. There’s a shimmer of smirking in-joke behind virtually
every track. It’s the kind of thing that, in the wrong hands,
turns otherwise decent bands into self-reflective parodies of
themselves. Think Nerf Herder. Luckily Fountains of Wayne usually
manage to skirt that particular pratfall, never allowing their
amusement at their own wittiness to overpower the need to write
songs accessible to non-in-crowd audiences.
Now, if you’re just not into guitar pop, or if quirky wordsmithing
isn’t in your top five reasons to listen to a band, these guys
are not likely to entertain you very much. There’s not much
here you haven’t heard before, sonically. The melodies are your
basic major key progressions, chorded, often fuzzed, but sometimes
simply amplified acoustics. The rhythms almost never venture
out of the slow- to mid-tempo straight time. There is nothing
even vaguely experimental or avant about the band or its music..
You’ve likely heard something very similar to the soundscapes
on Welcome Interstate Managers before. No one
should listen to the Fountains of Wayne looking for expansive
adventures in audio. But if you just enjoy solid to great pop
songwriting, if you hum along at the desk or sing your way through
the daily commute, if Gen-X word play amuses, it’s more than
worth the chance.
Standout tracks include the opener Mexican Wine, as
well as Bright Future in Sales and Little Red Light.
…Sales is a brilliant deconstruction of post-Gen-X angst
playing itself out in the Arthur Miller’s shadow, the other
two are just brilliant love songs of a type. Hey Julie
and Bought for a Song are also solid-to-great offerings,
and while it's countrified tinge might set some listeners aback
considering the context, Hung up on You is very good
on its own merits. Bought for a Song is my favorite track
due to its just-beneath-the-surface anger and general crunch,
and reference to “sake in aluminum cans.” I could live without
Halley’s Waitress and Fire Island, but I’ve always
been less impressed by the band’s balladeering than with their
faster paced songs. Your mileage may vary, of course.
All in all, I give Welcome Interstate Managers
five sponges. It’s not going to change you mind if you’re zombie-minded
out by Radiohead’s latest; nor is it going to replace My Bloody
Valentine in many CD changers. But it can entertain for weeks
if you’re just looking for the lonesome art of pop, and that’s
worthy the ticket price for me.