Monday, July 16, 2007

OPC Discusses the Merits of the New Fountains of Wayne Album

I wish I liked the new Fountains of Wayne album, Traffic and Weather, a little bit better than I do, but coming off its brilliant predecessor, Welcome Interstate Managers, I suppose we should have expected a little bit of a comedown. Whereas Welcome celebrated the American working life (note the title), T&W is more focused on the rootlessness of modern society (again, note the title), as well as on romance -- the title tune's chorus insists "We belong together like traffic and weather, like traffic and weather." It's still chockfull of those telling FOW details, but the Welcome details took us somewhere we hadn't been before, like the hapless protagonist of "Bright Future in Sales" "sleeping on a planter in the Port Authority, waiting for my bus to come." (Well, I've been in the Port Authority, many times, but you know what I mean.) Here the telling details exist on their own, like Beth McKenzie "tak[ing] the contacts out of her eyes" in "Someone to Love," which I love, but still doesn't really get us anywhere. I think this is largely because people (and especially artists) don't pay much attention to workin' joes, so there is still plenty to say about it, but rootlessness and squandered romance are almost cliches already.

The other thing about it is that maybe Jeff Lynne somehow got himself involved, but they seem to have crammed keyboards and synths and backing vocals and even a full horn section into every cranny of the music, so there's nothing as sheerly muscular as Welcome's "Bright Future in Sales" or as breezy as "Valley Winter Song." The songs are pretty enough to stand on their own, but some of them just get drowned.

That's not to say T&W is a bad record at all; it's quite good, although the best thing about "Revolving Dora" is the title, and it's not that great of a title. That unsurpassable FOW sense of place surfaces on several of the tracks, like in the hilarious breakup song "This Better Be Good," which rhymes "Sea Bright" with "seem right," or "I-95," where the narrator stops at a visitor's center on the eponymous highway and spots Barney DVDs and posters of girls washing cars. And as with all FOW albums, every day you'll have a new favorite song -- although nothing will ever top "Bright Future in Sales."

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