MUSIC REVIEW: Fountains of Wayne

Traffic and Weather Virgin
Music ••• Sound •••

On their first collection of new material since 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers (home to "Stacy's Mom"), Fountains of Wayne co-leaders/co-songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger continue to show an affinity for crafting tunes whose melodic and lyrical hooks can't help but bring a smile to anyone for whom the words power pop have always held special meaning. Nary a song goes by on this 14-track set that won't have you admiring the assortment of memory-triggering musical maneuvers that fill their meticulously fashioned aural landscapes. Take just the singing alone, where things go from Collingwood's "So It Goes"-era Nick Lowe-ly lead vocals ("'92 Subaru") and the band's Beach-Boys-by-way-of-Paper-Lace group harmonies ("This Better Be Good") to the Squeeze-y, XTC-zy melodic twists ("Someone to Love," "Yolanda Hayes"). Not to mention the omnipresent Beatles bows permeating the entire proceedings. After all, why sing the word love as one syllable when you can sing luh-uh-uve instead?

Still, for all the parlor-game-worthy retro-hip references - and all the standard FOW winking wordplay ("Two men sit in the corner of a diner / Both of them look quite a bit like Carl Reiner... / When her shift is over, she goes back to Mineola / Sits on the couch and opens up a diet cola") - Traffic and Weather isn't quite the overall success I wish it could be. That may be because Collingwood and Schlesinger work so hard at being smart that they neglect some of the heart that invariably tips the scales when it comes to creating truly lasting pop. Even the best songs here don't go much deeper than their face value. Take, for example, "Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim," a lovely-melodied ballad about a couple trying to get home after an exhaustive plane trip, only to discover that their luggage is lost. Unfortunately, nothing in the song really tells us anything more than what I've just described. So it's hard to think anything more about it than its attractive surface - and that, alas, is the pattern for many of the songs here. Lots of detail, but not much depth. And when the tunes aren't at least funny, well ...

Believe me, I hesitate to come down too hard on any band that features backwards guitar solos (the psychedelicized "Revolving Dora"), rhymes "gasoline" with "Aberdeen" ("I-95"), and cops to "checking out the women on Spanish television" ("Strapped for Cash"). But after a good decade of touting Fountains of Wayne's kissing-to-be-clever music, maybe it's time for some of us critics to start being cruel to be kind. In the right measure, of course.

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