Look Park

Look Park

Yep Roc, 2016


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I feel for Chris Collingwood. I really do.

No one should be forced to spend their lives trapped inside of someone else’s conception of who they are—even if “someone else” is an audience of thousands of fans who, truth be told, often prefer more of the same to any sort of growth or change from their favorite artists.

For 20 years, Collingwood was best known as frontman, rhythm guitarist and co-songwriter for those champions of witty, literate power-pop Fountains Of Wayne. His new project Look Park arrives as a declaration of independence, a fresh start on his own terms, supported by an all-star cast of Mitchell Froom (production and keys), Davey Faragher (bass) and Michael Urbano (drums).

Eager to craft a new musical identity for himself, when Collingwood started writing for this album, he “threw out the ones that sounded like FOW songs. It took a while to start thinking outside of four-piece, power chord arrangements.” The sound Collingwood and Froom eventually settled on is characterized by spaciousness and a certain sophistication, an emphasis on keys and atmospherics over guitars and drive whose melodic elegance reminded me at times of Joe Jackson’s Night And Day album.

Indeed, the opening duo of “Shout Pt. 1” and “Stars Of New York” pair bright, airy production with shimmering layers of keys and Mellotron, delivering tunes that are urbane and sparkly and nearly guitar-free. At the center, naturally, lies Collingwood’s elastic, often plaintive voice. Somehow on even the most expansive of tunes, he always sounds a little wistful and vulnerable; riddled with doubt seems to be his resting state. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Breezy” delves further into that wistfulness, focusing on a piano-and-acoustic duet with clever background vocals by Mike Viola, Flora Reed and Philip Price (the latter pair from Winterpills). The string-accented, introspective-yet-grandiose “Aeroplane” is the first time you catch a clear scent of FOW, as Collingwood attacks a familiar Fountains theme (the travails of travel) with more emphasis on the guitars and a familiar phrase or two (“slow rotating gaze”). And then there’s the oh-so-meta “Minor Is The Lonely Key,” a song about songwriting, with a rather continental sound.

Collingwood seems to coast effortlessly through the sing-songy “You Can Come Round If You Want To,” the clever “I’m Gonna Haunt This Place,” (“Like ghosts of old friends I’ve murdered in song / I’m gonna haunt this place when I’m gone”), and the gently snarky “Crash That Piano,” before Look Park closes on a high note with “Get On Home,” a lilting folk tune reminiscent of FOW’s “Valley Winter Song”: gentle, melodic, and ultimately uplifting.

Collingwood’s FOW songs were always the more impressionistic and less character-driven ones, and that tendency is accentuated here, but his outlook hasn’t fundamentally changed. He’s still an observant witness to human foibles, with a rather Eeyore-ish fatalism about him; even at their most optimistic, you have the sense in many of these songs that disaster may be lurking just around the corner.

What this all adds up to feels like something less than the sum of its parts. Look Park is beautifully arranged and performed and displays abundant craft and intelligence, yes. The issue for me is that these songs feel like they have no edges, which inevitably mutes their impact. In purposely steering away from the sort of sharply-drawn character sketches and shamelessly hummable hooks that characterized his former group, Collingwood delivers an album that sometimes verges on colorless.

The hardest part may be this: for this listener at least, the idea that there might never be another Fountains Of Wayne album ultimately draws a stronger emotional response than any of the songs on Look Park. Is that fair? That’s not for me to judge... but it’s real.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2016 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 Yep Roc, and is used for informational purposes only.