Fountains of Wayne
is Brian Young
and Jody Porter.
Fountains of Wayne Traffic and Weather
Published: Mar 28th, 2007
Author: Matt LeMay
Source: Pitchfork Media
At this point, it's no secret that Fountains of Wayne are not the world's best lyricists. I could fill this review with forced, awkward, and downright embarrassing lines from Traffic and Weather, but few people are looking to this band for lyrical wit and insight. Eleven years after releasing their excellent self-titled debut, Fountains of Wayne have found success doing one thing and one thing alone: serving bite-size and easy-to-swallow nuggets of cultural nostalgia. And they have the résumé to prove it; along with the shamelessly Cars-aping mega-hit "Stacy's Mom", primary songwriter Adam Schlesinger famously penned the songs for the Tom Hanks-directed 1996 film That Thing You Do! as well as providing songs for the recent Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore vehicle Music and Lyrics.
Somewhere along the line, the band gave up on the slightly ramshackle charm that made their debut so exciting. With the addition of a professional backing band on 1999's Utopia Parkway, Schlesinger and co-songwriter Chris Collingwood no longer needed to strip each song down to its essential hook and mood. Rather than evoking a playful sense of whimsy, the band was free to actually recreate the sound of rock music pasts, giving their subtler songs more muscle but also opening the door to some truly awful genre pastiche.
My biggest gripe with "Stacy's Mom" wasn't its obvious nod to "Just What I Needed" or its even more obvious lyrical flaws, but rather that the song's verses seemed like tossed-off filler to kill time before the big chorus. Apparently, they've taken the song's success to heart; at its best, Traffic and Weather sounds like a collection of big-hook choruses strung together with half-hearted chugging build-ups. At its worst... well, it's far and away the most forgettable thing the band has ever released.
Opener and leadoff single "Somebody to Love" sets the tale of two lonely young urbanites to crunchy guitars and a big, disco-thumping chorus. It's chock full of cultural references (Coldplay, "The King of Queens"), and succeeds in creating a generic sense of drama between verse and chorus. But, like most of Traffic and Weather, it ultimately comes down to a progression of easy and unmemorable musical choices. Yes, it "works," but only in the way that a crummy sitcom or a slick Hollywood date movie works.
That said, "Somebody to Love" is one of the album's high points. "92 Subaru", for instance, sounds like a remake of Adam Sandler's "Piece of Shit Car" minus the novelty. Elsewhere, the band seems to be veering increasingly towards stories and "themes" in their songs, and the results can be pretty nightmarish-- it's all forced structure and no payoff, like a joke stripped of its humor. And don't even get me started on "Planet of Weed".
We should expect much, much more from pop music than this kind of bullshit. "Yeah, but it's fun," or "it works for what it is" are merely excuses for mediocrity, which this album has in abundance-- none of these songs hit with the irresistible hook overload of their earliest work, or even of "Stacy's Mom". Fountains of Wayne have proven themselves capable songwriters, both as scrappy underdogs and as pop superstars, but Traffic and Weather finds them treading water in the worst possible way.