brent johnson listens to the latest album from the underappreciated Fountains Of Wayne …
It’s almost a shame ‘Stacy’s Mom’ was a hit.
The immensely catchy single about MILF adoration finally thrust Fountains Of Wayne into the public’s consciousness in 2003 after years of obscurity. But it also caused some to assume they’re nothing but a bunch of jokesters with a novelty hit.
Hardly. Fountains Of Wayne — cleverly named after a now-closed lawn ornament store on Route 46 in Wayne, N.J. — have churned out fantastic music for more than a decade. Musically, they play delicious power-pop with sugary chord progressions and even sweeter melodies. Lyrically, they write vivid tunes about subjects no other pop groups tackle: answering machines, lazy waitresses, stressed-out salesmen, and yes, the gorgeous mother that lives next door. They seem incapable of making an uninteresting album.
Sky Full Of Holes — their fifth studio record, set for release Aug. 2 — isn’t their best. It’s sometimes lackluster and short on hooks. But as always with FoW, it’s filled with moments that perk up your ears.
Like ‘Richie And Ruben,’ a pleasant shuffle about two dimwits who blow their friends’ money on half-baked schemes. ‘They opened up a bar called Living Hell/Right from the start, it didn’t go too well,’ frontman Chris Collingwood sings in an opening line that’s worth the price of admission.
The next track, ‘Acela,’ is an endearing blues-pop number that name-checks the high-speed train line. In other words, it’s further proof that Collingwood and bassist Adam Schlesinger can wring a song out of any topic.
Then there’s ‘Action Hero,’ a poignant track with Billy Joel-esque chord changes about the unsung hardship of being a middle-aged father. Not only must he deal with his son from flinging peas at dinner — he also faces doctors who warn him of his failing health. For a band steeped in such irony, darkness is an emotion that has often bubbles under their music. On this album, it’s more prevalent.
‘A Road Song’ is a bit warmer: a country-ish love-letter from a rock musician to his partner back home. It’s a kind of modern re-hash of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ — only with references to Cracker Barrel, Will Ferrell and Journey lead singer Steve Perry. (Few pop artists can do that so effortlessly.)
But the album’s best moment comes at the end. Closing track ‘Cemetery Guns’ is magnificent — a hymn about a military funeral that sounds like a lost a Civil War folk song. It’s sad. It’s smart. It’s the work of a seasoned band whose music is too often underappreciated.
Fountains Of Wayne are touring this summer, making stops tonight at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J., and tomorrow night at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. For more dates and information, visit their website.