That simple affirmation appears in the opening moments of “Mexican Wine,” just before the song shifts from a tinkly catalog of personal catastrophe into power pop divinity. And if I were a gutsier writer that’s all I’d say about the Fountains of Wayne’s third release, Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve Records): one big YEP! for this gang of criminally undersold Jersey guitar poppers.
Welcome is the band’s first album in four years (“And of course you all own a copy of Utopia Parkway, right?” he said in his best sneering record store geek voice), and, damn, did I miss ’em. Chief Fountainheads Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger have kept busy in the intervening years – Schlesinger was part of the crew producing smart pop pastiches for Josie and the Pussycats, for instance (and let’s not forget the theme to Crank Yankers!) – but as a group, the FoW are unmatched when it comes to cranking out smart and accessible pop-rock. I’ve been playing their first two releases regularly over the past four years, and neither one has worn thin: no mean feat when we’re talking modern pop.
The band’s especially deft when it comes to precise dramatic monologues – the dullard teen who’s in lust with “Stacy’s Mom;” the self-destructive salesman who repeats “I’ve got to get my shit together,” even as we know he never will; the diner customer resentfully waiting for “Halley’s Waitress” to refill his coffee; the would-be hippie stonedly watching a familiar disaster on television – all set within the confines of the seemingly effortless pop single.
The band gets plenty of critical props for its smart lyrics (and deservedly so), but they’re also pretty darn deft when it comes to hooky instrumental flourishes: the way that the guitar bridge in “Mexican Wine” intertwines with Beatle-esque horns, the whooshing harmonies on “No Better Place,” the ace proto-psychedelic guitarwork on tracks like “Bright Future in Sales” and “Little Red Light.” Collinwood’s boyish pop croon is perfectly suited to capture the chronological and/or mental adolescent grown-up losers who typically populate the FoW cityscape: when he mimics Ric Ocasek’s hiccoughing syllables in the winkingly Cars-inflected “Stacy’s Mom,” for instance, you can’t help but chuckle at the aptness of it.
With guitar-centric albums all the momentary rage, perhaps the Fountains of Wayne have finally found their day. I certainly hope so, since they out-write and out-play most of what passes for Modern Pop-Rock on practically every level. Contrast a cut like “Valley Winter Song” with anything on the Thorns’ debut disc, for instance, for lyrical specificity and plain ol’ zippiness: FoW comes up the clear winner, even with an overdone “I wrote this song for you” conceit holding ’em back. And forget about comparing FoW to a bunch of emo lightweights like the Ataris.
Let’s end this review with an alienating Rock Fan Polarity, shall we? The way I see it, all you new rock fans have got two basic choices this year: spend your summer held up in your room with the shades drawn, listening to Thom Yorke moan miserably – or sit out in the backyard with a glass of something refreshing and sing along with the Fountains. I know what I’m gonna do. . .
(For another Blogcritic look at this disc, check out Chad Orzel‘s review.)
“I Used to Work in a Record Store”