Utopia Parkway

Fountains Of Wayne

Atlantic, 1999


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sophomore albums often fall into one of two categories: carbon copies of the debut that preceded them, or experiments in which the artists consciously push away from their past approach. Fountains Of Wayne’s Utopia Parkway does neither, instead representing an almost-perfect developmental midpoint between the rough sketches of their self-titled debut and the detailed masterworks of their breakthrough third album, Welcome Interstate Managers.

The opening title track perfectly describes a character that songwriters Chris Collingwood (lead vocals and guitar) and Adam Schlesinger (bass, keyboards, harmony vocals) are still telling stories about today—the slightly delusional loser dude who’s convinced he’s got it all figured out. He’s a flame-painted Chevy pickup in a world full of Ferraris, and he’s still convinced he’s going to win the race, to use a “’92 Subaru”-type analogy.

“Red Dragon Tattoo” is an early highlight, its ringing power-pop exuberance underscoring the tale of a guy who’s trying desperately to fit in with the inked crowd favored by the wannabe tough girl he likes, but it’s going to be a real stretch because “I never did hard time / I bought a .38 Special CD collection / Some Bactine to prevent infection.” The kicker, of course, is that it his gamble doesn’t work: “Will you stop pretending I’ve never been born / Now I look a little more like that guy from KorN.” (If that line doesn’t make you smile, well, it really should.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Denise” shows off the pair’s eye for details (“She drives a lavender Lexus / She lives in Queens but her dad lives in Texas”) over a driving beat and big guitars courtesy of Jody Porter (guitars) and Brian Young (drums). But sometimes a Fountains song is just about creating a vibe; thus you get what are on some level throwaway tunes like “Hat And Feet”—a cute image but not much more—and “Go, Hippie,” which deploys a ’70s space-rock vibe to make fun of aging burnouts, a favorite FOW target.

“The Valley Of Malls” demonstrates yet again that Collingwood and Schlesinger are able to inhabit the disaffected suburban worker-drone mentality like no one else in rock; these guys get it, and know how to turn it into clever stories and wry one-liners. The cheery cheesiness of “Laser Show” has odd charms all its own, another go at chronicling the lives and passions of suburban loser/stoners. Of course, you can’t really call a tune a throwaway that manages to rhyme “Kirk and Lars”; props for that.

Elsewhere, you can find the boys beginning to explore more thoroughly the airy, evocative melancholy that has since become a key element of their work in tunes like “Troubled Times,” “A Fine Day For A Parade,” the wistful “Prom Theme” and the elegiac closer “The Senator’s Daughter.” And if that doesn’t float your boat, there’s always reliably effervescent power-pop numbers like “Lost In Space” and “It Must Be Summer.”

Utopia Parkway is the document of a band that knew what it wanted to do, stuck to its creative guns, and continued to improve its craft album after album. This sophomore album is simply point two on a straight line the boys are still traveling, upward and onward to the heights of clever, literate power-pop.

Rating: B+

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