Fountains of Wayne
is Brian Young
and Jody Porter.
Way more than "Stacy's Mom"
Published: Apr 3rd, 2007
Author: Zachary Herrmann
Source: Diamondback Online
To many misinformed music fans, Fountains of Wayne just seems like a joke group. The band's over-exposed wisecrack "Stacy's Mom" catapulted the band into the MTV and commercial radio-play stratosphere, a fine break for a bunch of guys named after a North Jersey decorative garden shop. And with its third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, FOW delivered blistering guitar licks and acoustic balladry, a tough act to follow.
Four years later, FOW returns with Traffic and Weather, quite possibly the band's pop masterpiece.
While Welcome Interstate Managers wore its riffs on its sleeves, Traffic and Weather revels in subtlety; the hooks are there, it just takes a few listens for the pop-genius to sink in. But don't go looking for a "Stacy's Mom" or "Bright Future in Sales" because you may be sadly disappointed. Instead, the new album reigns supreme with hidden guitar treats on "Yolanda Hayes" and the sweet slide licks on "I-95."
The transition to a slightly newer FOW sound may be a little jarring at first. "Someone to Love" opens with a synth-driven chorus; the drumbeat is almost danceable. Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, the songwriters, are at the top of the lyrical game. This opener is the first of many Ray Davies-inspired character pieces, tales of loneliness and humor that are always idiosyncratic and chock-full of nuance.
Traffic and Weather boasts the band's most lovable and memorable cast of characters: We meet Seth Shapiro, a young lawyer who at the end of the day calls his mom, "Puts Coldplay on/ Pours a glass of wine/ Curls up with a book about organized crime, and his lonely counterpart Beth MacKenzie cuts in front of him to grab a taxi in the rain. In this album, non-relationships and the great disconnect between people compete with actual relationships to be FOW's main focus.
Riding on a pinched-Beatles riff (it's okay, everyone does it), "Yolanda Hayes" is a beautiful snapshot of a man eyeing a DMV worker amidst "the bright fluorescent lights." Automobiles and the open road are recurring themes on an album fit for lovelorn trips on the interstate.
Example: "I-95," which will strike a chord with anyone who has ever driven the long, traffic-laden haul into the South. The narrator takes the nine-hour drive from up North to his loved one in Virginia; Collingwood sings, "it feels so cinematic until a van/ Driven by an elder gentleman/ Cuts right in front of me/ From then on that's all I see."
But if road rage and Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies aren't your cup of tea, there are plenty of straight-up rockers, slacker anthems and retro-psychedelic tunes to feed your head. "'92 Subaru" maybe the greatest ode ever to a 15-year-old souped-up car, comes on full assault with burning rock power-chords.
It's obvious the key to FOW's overall success on Traffic and Weather is its insistence on fun. The lyrics are insightful but never self-serious, and the music - well, it's sublime.
Never shying from a musical challenge, FOW show its versatility on "Fire in the Canyon," transitioning from a chugging guitar single about an anchor confessing his love on-air for a co-anchor to a Blonde on Blonde-influenced country sound. And the title track finds the band at a great tongue-in-cheek moment: "Ooh baby, we belong together/ Like traffic and weather."
Even the more light-hearted fare proves incredibly memorable. "Planet of Weed," a would-be sequel to Welcome Interstate Managers' "Peace and Love," lays some easy acoustic strumming and rambling piano over the sound of clinking bottles (bongs might be more appropriate), harnessing a lazy Sunday afternoon filtered through a stoner utopia. Amusing, yes, but it's hardly filler.
Similarly, "New Routine" calls for a sudden musical change. With its synthesizer-laden chorus, the song seems to scream "carpe diem".
And seize the day FOW has. With bigger ambitions and a larger sound this time around, FOW has produced an album that could turn out to be the most entertaining, wittiest release of the year. Take it for a spin, and leave "Stacy's Mom" behind.