Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers

Fountains of Wayne
Welcome Interstate Managers

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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