There's pop music, and then there's "pop in the poppiest pop pop sense of the word," to quote Ron "the Boogiemonster" Gerber from KFAI-FM's Crap From the Past (90.3/106.7). That's how he described Fountains of Wayne on the air a few Fridays ago, as I headed out of town on a hot highway into the night. And I knew what he meant as soon as he threw on "Stacy's Mom," the band's brash attempt to outdo Mrs. Robinson and Stifler's mom in one era-collapsing swoop. Fountains of Wayne's PR juggernaut is such that it took local community radio to alert me to the new album, issued on a boutique label owned by the A&R rep who signed them to Atlantic before the major dumped them. (Their two acclaimed albums on Atlantic sold poorly.) But the band's FM-radio appeal is so obvious that they made I-94 and surrounding Hudson seem suddenly epic and full of late-night possibilities. Pudge's Bar, here I come! Hello, Wisconsin!
The creative fountains of Fountains, singer-songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, have always seemed capable of making the stuff summers are made of. They've digested so many nostalgic influences that references are useless--try the Cars, drive-up fast food, and England for starters. But they also subsume their personalities in craft and homage, an effect that makes them seem a little arch, like a British invasion Urge Overkill. I found it admirable that they were able to provide the important title song of 1996's That Thing You Do!, a movie about a one-hit-wonder everyband from Pennsylvania in 1964 (called the Oneders, for emphasis, and modeled after countless garage bands from co-star Steve Zahn's own Minnesota). Yet Fountains of Wayne really are a kind of everyband, the musical equivalent of the cutting-edge suburban Everywheresville that is New Jersey--a state they can't stop singing about.
Good thing the band's character studies lend themselves to chameleonic rock and playacting: FOW make lush acoustic funk for the hippie parody "Peace and Love" ("Riding around in a Volkswagen van/Thinking 'bout the people upside-down in Japan"). "Valley Winter Song" is the Hang Ups on a good day; "All Kinds of Time" is Semisonic on a better one. And in a perfect pop scheme where every line must rhyme, the boys muster such lyrics as "I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times." That's their career in a nutshell.
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