Sky Full Of Holes

Fountains Of Wayne

Yep Roc, 2011

http://www.fountainsofwayne.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/15/2011

Plenty of albums have achieved the status of immortal; only a handful of album reviews can say the same.  One of those was an early review of Queen’s A Day At The Races, in which the Times of London described the song “Tie Your Mother Down” as “sheer bloody poetry.” Not only was the critic right; the quote stuck to the band like a politician to their #1 donor.

The thing about power-pop savants Fountains Of Wayne is, just about every single track they’ve released over a 15-year, five-album career could comfortably and accurately carry the same description—sheer bloody poetry from the pens (and guitars) of the emperors of irony, the sultans of the sardonic, the wonder boys of wistful, the songwriting team of singer-guitarist Chris Collingwood and bassist-producer Adam Schlesinger.

Sky Full Of Holes finds the guys a little older and perhaps a little more subdued, but no less artful in their exploration of the foibles of the memorable characters who inevitably populate their guitar-driven story-songs.  Whether it’s the spectacularly dysfunctional city family doing time together at “The Summer Place,” or the hopelessly out-of-their-depth would-be restaurateurs “Richie and Ruben,” these are characters filled with flaws, stumbling through life trying to find a rhythm and a meaning to it all. 

The thing that Collingwood and Schlesinger manage to do over and over again that is so unique and so remarkable, is to manage to sketch these invented personalities as fully as any novelist could hope to in the space of a few brilliantly rhymed lines.  You sense if you walked up to these characters on the street, you would recognize them immediately.

On this album, the boys do flex their creative muscles a bit.  While there’s nothing much new on the musical front—if anything, Collingwood and Schlesinger’s bandmates Jody Porter (lead guitar) and Brian Young (drums) have less to do than usual—they do take chances like writing a fanciful, acerbic ode to a train in “Acela,” and leaving behind any suggestion of plot or characters altogether on the driving, surrealistic, simply gorgeous “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart.”nbtc__dv_250

The thing that’s so remarkable about FOW, though, is that they never, ever fail to make their art entertain.  The sweetly elegiac “Action Hero” salutes the grand fantasies and mundane, stressful realities of life as a suburban dad.  “A Dip In The Ocean” is an upbeat melodic rocker whose couplets flow so smoothly it’s like crossing the Raspberries with Eminem and coming up with a handful of raspberry M&Ms; this song positively sparkles. “Cold Comfort Flowers” is a keening masterpiece of simply phenomenal poetry; the way they match the long “i”s and the soft “a”s so that the lines rush along in a steady flow of like sounds are the stuff all-star MCs are made of.

“Road Song” does another of the things that these guys do best, which is grab a cliché and turn it inside out, into something new and fun and insightful.  Certainly, they’re the only songwriters you’ll ever find who would (a) think to rhyme Cracker Barrel with Will Ferrell, and (b) put it in context so it emerges as naturally as the conversation you’d have with anyone walking down the street. (It’s a strange gift, but a gift nonetheless.)  The capper, though, is the disarming playfulness of the conversation the narrator is having with his girlfriend back home about the fact that he’s writing her a road song, admitting that he’s making her roll her eyes and groan… it’s thoroughly charming.

Moving down the list, “Hate To See You Like This” is an airy tale of trying to help a friend get their act together, a very pretty melody for a not-very-pretty subject.  “Radio Bar” is a bouncy, fun number about an old favorite hangout, filled with classic rock references and lit up by the trumpet work of Ronnie Buttacavoli, who provided similar services on Traffic And Weather and Welcome Interstate Managers

The lush, pretty “Firelight Waltz” segues seamlessly to the closer, which gives the album its mysterious title.  Of all the FOW tunes I’ve ever referred to as elegiac, “Cemetery Guns” earns the adjective in the most literal and moving way.  Painting the scene of a military funeral where the 21-gun salute shoots “the sky full of holes,” this track manages to be sad, sweet and clever all at once with its mellifluous rhymes and painterly references to color.  It’s unapologetically poetic, with the military cadence of the drums the perfect final touch.

The playful edge of Welcome Interstate Managers and Traffic And Weather feels a bit muted on Sky Full Of Holes; it’s more internally consistent in style and tone, but consequently less kaleidoscopic in feel.  As with T&W—an album that has gotten better and better with every listen over the past four years—it’s once again hard not to sit in anticipation of a cotton-candy pop confection on the order of “Stacy’s Mom,” and not to miss just a little bit the fact that there isn’t one here.  Still, as before, once you settle in, get to know these songs and come to appreciate their essential genius, you are reminded again of what a fluke—in truth, a goofy footnote—“Stacy’s Mom” really is in the career of one of the most prodigiously talented songwriting teams of their generation.

Rating: A

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