Fountains of Wayne/Ivy co-founder and bassist Adam Schlesinger and ex-Smashing Pumpkins/A Perfect Circle guitarist James Iha may have started out on different paths along the alt-rock spectrum, but since the mid-1990s these two well-respected musicians and producers have been close friends and collaborators.
In addition to co-founding the Scratchie Records imprint and Stratosphere Sound studio in New York City, these two have toured together – Fountains of Wayne opened for the Pumpkins in the mid-1990s – and guested on many of their respective bands’ albums over the years. Iha has played guitar or added vocals to Ivy and FofW albums, while Schlesinger contributed piano/bass guitar on Iha’s lone solo record Let It Come Down and piano on Pumpkins tunes, including the Iha-penned “The Bells.”
Schlesinger has also been longtime friends with Taylor Hanson of the Hanson Brothers, and Iha with Cheap Trick through the iconic Chicago group’s longstanding friendship with members of fellow Chicago natives, the Pumpkins.
Somehow, Schlesinger found time between FofW and other projects to get this odd mix of friends and associates together to form a supergroup of sorts, record a self-titled album and tour behind it, including a stop at SXSW and an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in recent months.
Leadoff track “Kind Of A Girl” was written by Schlesinger, yet sees Hanson asserting himself as a frontman and Iha turning up his guitars to make his presence loud and clear as lead guitarist, something he hasn’t been since his pre-Pumpkins days (if you don’t include his one-off solo project in 1998). Catchy “uh ohs” and “whoas” carry the choruses while a short, phaser-propelled flashy solo by Iha hints back (barely) to his early Pumpkins contributions (think “Plume”).
After this strong start, there isn’t anything particularly memorable until the frustrated pop punk of “Can’t Get A Read On You” and the lovely, steady Iha-penned “Back With You” counter-balance each other as a solid one-two punch.
The problem with this record isn’t necessarily that the songs are bad. They’re all easy on the ears, but too often there isn’t many points that catch your ear by surprise. It’s meat-and-potatoes power pop. For much of it, Iha and company play it safe, so-to-speak.
Perhaps one notable exception is the almost bluesy pop of “Cha Cha,” with some surprisingly bluesy guitar licks by Iha, the song’s author, and glistening acoustic guitar tracks underneath to round out the sound.
Last track “Take Me Back,” a Hanson/Schlesinger collaboration has Hanson singing in David Bowie fashion with his “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”-like refrain “T-T-T-Take Me Back” and some simple yet memorable guitar work to end the album.
As a frontman, Taylor Hanson may give his new group the kind of rock star sex appeal Cheap Trick thrived on but on this record, he lacks lyrical depth and charismatic skills of the likes of Robin Zander. That said, Tinted Windows as a band have created an easy-to-swallow record, but one that’s lacking in truly unforgettable material.
Thus, they need to raise the bar a little for power pop in order to separate themselves from the hundreds of other (much younger) similar acts. Star power alone won’t be enough for them to be mainstays in the mainstream and indie rock circuit like the members’ full-time acts have been.
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