While The White Stripes continue to be one of the best, most innovative rock bands around, Fountains of Wayne has done something impressive in its own right: mastered the art of writing pop songs.
Some decry pop songs. And I count myself among those who used to put down all pop songs as meaningless bubble gum tripe. I wanted my music to be important – like U2 singing about “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or Peter Gabriel singing about “Biko.”
But over time I’ve come to distinguish between those whose songs are popular despite any lack of any original content (New Kids On The Block, Jay Z, B5, etc.) and those who are good and also happen to popular. Go back and listen to the early Beatles songs and you will find that they are really just pop songs. But that band packed so much in to each simple song.
With all the boy bands and divas around it’s hard to find good pop but some does exist, and that is where Fountains of Wayne enters the picture.
I first heard their debut album and was amazed. This was not a band trying to say anything profound or do anything totally innovative. No, that is
left for other bands to try out. Fountains of Wayne instead have short songs of angst comparable to Nine Inch Nails or Violent Femmes, but the lyrics are surrounded by such great musical hooks that you have to listen to realize the jagged edges of the pictures being drawn.
This was similar to what the Beautiful South and Housemartins did – great, creative happy-sounding music while disturbing edgy lyrics were contained therein. There are exceptions – not every song is dark or pleading. But how many bands sing, as this band does, about the jerk who never had to worry about getting turned down for the prom?
The band’s debut album was amazing. The second album, Utopia Parkway, was more uneven but still was so much better than most other albums around.
Unfortuntely, their biggest hit – “Stacy’s Mom” – was probably one of their least original tunes. That was on the band’s third album, Welcome Interstate Managers. So if all you know of this band is that song, well, give them another chance.
Try out their latest collection, Out-Of-State Plates. The album has some rarities, like their hilarious slow guitar take of Britney Spear’s “… Baby One More Time” and two fun Christmas songs, one about a guy dressed as Santa Claus razzed for looking like Jerry Garcia. But it’s the clever word play of some of the other songs that shows why these guys are geniuses.
Let me give an example. Take this song, “I’ll Do The Driving,” about the misunderstandings between a man and his girlfriend:
“We’re out, the jukebox plays ’jumping jack flash’
She says ’i love johnny cash, the man in red’
I turn my head and pretend not to hear what she said
And I don’t know where this is going
But I’ve got a feeling
I’ll do the driving from now on”
A far cry from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, don’t you think?
The best example is probably my favorite song in this collection titled “The Girl I Can’t Forget.”
Well I was reeling, watching the ceiling spin
the next evening when my friends walked in
and when I asked them if they knew where I’d been
they didn’t speak at first, they only grinned
You see I’m not the type to get in fights
but that might not have been the case last night
because they heard that I had a word or two
with a man who asked, “Is she with you?”
And if I took it the wrong way
I guess that’s not for me to say
though it seems I may have slipped up
when I offered him some grooming tips
But at least that helps explain
the cuts and bruises on my head
from the night I can’t remember
with the girl I can’t forget
As CNN correctly says this band’s b-sides and rarities throwaways are better than 95 percent of most bands official releases.
Fountains of Wayne do some of the best power pop around. And with bands like this around it makes facing pop radio more tolerable, at least until the latest new boy band sensation starts getting played to death and I have to retreat again to my CD collection.