Fountains Of Wayne

Fountains Of Wayne

Atlantic, 1996

http://www.fountainsofwayne.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/24/2012

Everybody starts somewhere; New Jersey geek-rock poet laureates Fountains Of Wayne started here.

Looser, greasier and occasionally heavier than the albums that would follow, the band’s 1996 self-titled debut has a bit of an awkward adolescent vibe to it when compared directly with their later, more polished work, but the essence of the band’s persona—the wry humor, the expert lyrical and melodic hooks, the multi-part harmonies and snarky asides—is all there; it’s just raw sugar as opposed to refined.  And while the Chris Collingwood-Adam Schlesinger songwriting partnership (and the complementary playing of bandmates Brian Davis and Jody Porter) would continue to grow, the group’s gift for sharp songcraft and zesty musicianship is already apparent here.

The narratives of tunes like “Radiation Vibe” and “Sink To The Bottom” don’t feel fully realized, but the grooves are sweet and the sharp edges to the band’s power-pop sound are there, just fuzzed out a bit by the looser approach taken here.  Early highlight “She’s Got A Problem” delivers a virtual topic sentence for not just this album, but Fountains Of Wayne’s entire songbook, in perfect deadpan: “She’s got a problem / And she’s gonna do something dumb.”  That’s what characters in FOW songs do, more often than not; something like half their songs are about confused and/or immature people making bad choices, and what happens next. nbtc__dv_250

Tracks like “Joe Rey,” “Survival Car” and “I’ve Got A Flair” have a playful core, full of thrashy, crashy drums and crunchy guitars, even if the lyrics sometimes feel underdeveloped compared to the laser precision of later compositions. It’s with tunes like the languid, dreamy “Sick Day” and the spot-on semi-classic “Leave The Biker” that you can feel the band hitting its stride; here the lyrics nail their mark and the arrangements complement them perfectly.

The closing trio of “You Curse At Girls,” “Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight” and “Everything’s Ruined” are little more than sketches—pleasant and clever enough, they just feel somewhat unfinished when you compare them to the sort of masterful lyrics and arrangements the band would grow into.

It’s interesting about perspective, though. The shortcomings of Fountains Of Wayne seem clear in retrospect, looking back from the wake of remarkable albums like Welcome Interstate Managers and Traffic And Weather—but in the context of grunge-hangover, alt-rock-heavy 1996, this album must have felt remarkably fresh with its quirky character sketches and gleeful power-pop arrangements. The album’s back cover photo of a depressed hipster girl stuck in a cubicle nailed an enduring theme of the band’s work and set them up as spokespeople for the oppressed gen-x worker drone. 

Ben Folds called his early-demos release Naked Baby Photos; you could subtitle this debut Cute Toddler Snaps.  They’d get better and better over the years, but Fountains Of Wayne was still an appealing starting point.

Rating: B-

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