Traffic And Weather

Fountains Of Wayne

Virgin, 2007

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Lonely yuppies, surly civil servants, horny news anchors, burned out hippies and all manner of deluded wannabe scenesters – these are the kind of distinctly off-center yet instantly recognizable characters that populate the world imagined by Fountains Of Wayne in album after album of blissful, smart-alecky power pop.  It’s like stepping into an alternate universe where everyone speaks in snarky rhymes and worships Ric Ocasek.

The profile of this once somewhat unassuming quartet of musical provacateurs blew up like Simon Cowell’s ego after 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers scored them a Top Ten single with the saucy, catchy-as-hell “Stacy’s Mom.”  (That Rachel Hunter pole-dancing suburban mom video didn’t hurt either…)  For a band that invented its own special niche of New York/New Jersey-centric, average-Joe, character-driven, steadfastly retro guitar pop, going large in terms of public awareness had to be a weird experience.  And the punchline to their success was that “Stacy’s Mom,” for all its hooky, witty wonderfulness, wasn’t even close to being the best track on WIMmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 .

So what do they do for an encore?  What they do best, of course.  Fourteen more three-minute vignettes populated with original points of view, laugh-out-loud rhymes, fat guitar hooks, sing-along choruses and circa-1979 synthesizers.

As on WIM, the changes in tone, style and character voice can be dizzying, but never fail to entertain.  Lead single “’92 Subaru” is an instant classic, fat fuel-injected guitars and retro synths pumping up the delusional gearhead narrator who’s certain his tricked-out Subie is his ticket to score-dom.  And who but FoW would even think to write a song (“Yolanda Hayes”) about flirting with a stone-faced DMV clerk?  With a snazzy trumpet solo, yet?

“Revolving Dora” is another piece of confectionary brilliance, a spot-on musical pastiche of Revolver-era Beatles, natch, that pays homage while spooling out subversively clever lines like “She‘s in her own rotating world / There’s something blurry about that girl.”  Other classic character sketches include the aforementioned horny anchors in “Traffic And Weather,” the exquisitiely smarmy loan shark customer who’s “Strapped For Cash,” and the emotionally drained travelers of “Michael And Heather At The Baggage Claim” and “Seatbacks And Traytables.”

After six or seven listens, though, I have to say my favorite track of the moment is “New Routine,” whose winding chain-reaction narrative builds and flows from character to character, verse to verse, a beautifully realized illustration of how people at different places in their lives react to boredom and wanderlust.  Pretty insightful stuff for an album that also features “Planet Of Weed” – though admittedly, even that shambling ode to life under the influence has its moments of strange poignancy. 

As always, on track after track Chris Collingwood (lead vocals, guitar), Adam Schlesinger (bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, production), Jody Porter (guitar, vocals) and Brian Young (drums) find new sounds and musical attitudes to hit you with; these are musical chameleons of the first order.  As songwriters, Collingwood and Schlesinger have never been craftier or more melodic.

As far as practical considerations, though, the question is obvious: is there anything on this album as viscerally memorable as “Stacy’s Mom”?  Probably not.  But is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so.  No need to share this thoroughly original cast of characters with the unwashed masses, half of whom wouldn’t get the jokes anyway.  Let them keep right on gobbling up the latest American Idol reject; they’re getting exactly what they deserve.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-


Excellent review!

© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.