THIS IS WHAT THE RADIO SHOULD BE PLAYING!!!
Oh wait, they are now...how nice...look for the second single, Mexican Wine, soon!
A review of Fountains Of Wayne's new one - Welcome Interstate Managers
First, I say this - if you like power pop music, shame on you for not already owning this album. It's excellent.
It's got all the same great elements that made 1999's Utopia Parkway a classic. Witty lyrics, beautiful melodies, cool little guitar bits, perfectly appropriate production (each song is produced the way it should sound), and great chord progressions. I take this crap in order, so as to give you an impression of the album as I hear it.
The album kicks off with "Mexican Wine" - it's got a sunny chorus (very California-sounding - it's sometimes surprising to think these guys are from the east coast). It really captures the FOW sound. Kind of like a modern version of a 60s garage band (unlike the current crop of pretenders without bassists). From there, you're catapulted (via a kick-ass guitar riff) into the world of sales...and the future is bright. "Bright Future In Sales" is an instant classic - rock and roll guitars, a huge hook, and a playful melody, and all the yeah-yeah's you'd want. One would never expect as banal a topic as a white-collar employee's career (and drinking problem) to be as exciting as it's presented here. "Stacy's Mom" is the first single off the album, and to quote the song (cheesy pun coming up...) it's really "got it going on" (okay, I regret that-I'm sorry). There's nothing cooler than a song about wanting to do someone's mom, especially if they're hot. It's got a very early-80s Cars feel to it, with nice layered harmonies on the ride-out. It ends cold with the title, and the silence eases you into the next track, the wistful "Hackensack". Sometimes silly "I saw you talkin' to Christopher Walken", often predictable "I will wait for you-as long as I need to", but always perfect, the lyrics are great and terrible all rolled into one. If you don't get that, go read reviews on some corporate site...rollingstone.com has a lot of Bruce Springsteen-, Bob Dylan- and R.E.M.-lovers that I'm sure you'd enjoy more. It's easier to have your tastes dictated to you. I still can't believe they stole Wilco from us. Fuckers. Anyway, I digress...
"No Better Place" will likely be the next single. It's pure pop perfection, and has more of the pleasing 60s-ish guitar bits - kind of like the Byrds. R.E.M. milked the same jangly stuff for a while to great effect, until they got too many good reviews and started thinking they were more "important" than they really are. "Valley Winter Song" is the song I wish I had written for my wife. It's got a pleasing, mellow brush groove on the drums - it's quick, but not hard. Kind of like some of the more mellow Barenaked Ladies songs. It also features a nice country-pop guitar solo that complements the song. "All Kinds Of Time" recalls "Fake Plastic Trees"-era Radiohead, before those tossers started feeling "experimental" and forgot how to write a good SONG. It's a pure pop song - it's one of those songs you hear and get a really clear mental picture of what the video should be - it almost screams to be included in a movie. It's just got that anthemic quality to it. James Iha (the Asian guy from Smashing Pumpkins that wore the dress in the "Today" video) guests on guitar - and plays some great, trippy lines.
After the anthem comes the game, right? Well, "Little Red Light" moves into "road song" mode - one of those lovelorn songs that somehow manages to express the frustration of being dropped or at least ignored and never quite getting over it. I've been there, so this one speaks to me. From being dumped to being totally in love...what a wonderful transition. "Hey Julie" is the other song on this album I wish I wrote. It's a great expression of how it feels to have a clear picture of what matters in your life. Not work - your family, wife, husband, whatever.
And now for another trip into the world of the mundane...
"Halley's Waitress" has a 70s jazz-pop feel to it, complete with strings, chicka-chicka wah-wah guitar (think Porn movie or Barry White tune). It reminds me a bit of some of the great stuff Billy Joel did with Phil Ramone on his 1978 classic album "52nd Street". It's a song about a waitress that never seems to come back. I mean, seriously, we can all relate to that - "WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE?" - sometimes it drives me crazy. Now I have a song to sing to calm me down. From a song about a waitress to a country song - what a perfect transition! "Hung Up On You" is about as close to country as I've ever heard these fellas go, and it has one of the best choruses I've ever heard...check out these lyrics:
And I can't dial the phone just now
Even though I know your number
I can't bring my broken heart to be untrue
What you did today you'll say
Goodbye the same old way
Ever since you hung up on me, I'm hung up on you
"Fire Island" falls into the Fountains Of Wayne formula for songs for teens about their lives. ("Troubled Times" and "Prom Theme" from Utopia Parkway are perfect examples) It features a great Flugelhorn solo. How many times can you say that about a song? "Peace And Love" has a real commercial feel to it...I would be shocked if this one doesn't turn up in a Verizon or Cingular ad at some point. Lots of "ooh-hoo"s in it. It's like psychedelia-lite. I especially love the Billy Joel reference: "...tryin' to find the chords for "Just The Way You Are" (don't go changin')" What best to follow the track most likely to appear in a commercial? Why, a song called "Bought For A Song", of course! This one really rocks, in a pop sort of way. Think Beatles meets Who with some Elton John thrown in. Actually, now that I listen closely, it has some other britpop kind of thing going on - perhaps if Damon Albarn (the dude from Blur) sang this it could be mistaken for something done by a gaggle of limeys.
Speaking of limeys, "Supercollider" sounds like they stole it from Noel Gallagher's songbook. Nice and dreamy...kind of a "Champagne Supernova" thing happening here mixed with a little "Wonderwall", but with a genuinely yankee feel. "Yours and Mine" is a cute little way to bring this disc to an end. A simple little acoustic ditty with great melody and sweet lyrics that clocks in at a mere 1:02.
Fountains of Wayne deserves to sell at least a million copies of this record. Part of me wishes that they had released their version of the Max Martin classic "...Baby One More Time" (popularized by the "tapin' cajun'," Miss Britney Spears). Then Utopia Parkway could have reached more people.
To sum up, Welcome Interstate Managers is an excellent pop album. This is what pop is supposed to be, not some crap Adult Contemporary Celine Dion or 'NSync ballad or some one-trick-pony rap track with the same music through the whole song and some lame hook. So, if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you. Go out and buy it now, and while you're there, pick up Fountains Of Wayne's other two records, 1996's eponymous debut and 1999's Utopia Parkway. And enjoy the melodies!
(Melodies...what a friggin' concept.)
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