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Fountains of Wayne, kings of power pop

Ryan Rafferty | Wednesday, October 1, 2003

We all have our guilty pleasures. Some claim chocolate as theirs, others admit that they often wake up in the middle of the night craving those little marshmallow Peeps, but people’s greatest secretive delights are those catchy power pop songs. No one can resist their tasty hooks or honey-dripping harmonies. Bands of this genre of music are notorious for having a short shelf life (ask Weezer or the Replacements), but one band that has seemed to survive are the pop music geniuses from Fountains of Wayne. With three albums to date and a huge cult following, songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood have seemingly perfected the art of writing catchy pop tunes, and their latest release, Welcome Interstate Managers, does not disappoint.

Four years after their last release, Utopia Parkway, Fountains of Wayne return to the music scene with one of the brightest albums of the year. Band members Schlesinger and Collinwood are renowned for their pop sensibilities, contributing to several soundtracks in that four-year hiatus, including the title track from the movie “That Thing You Do.” In their latest release, they push their pop sensibilities to the limits. Welcome Interstate Managers delivers some of the most clever lyrics and infectious songs to date.

The album kicks off with the energetic “Mexican Wine,” which contains witty lyrics such as: “He was killed by a cellular phone explosion / they scattered his ashes across the ocean / the water was used to make baby lotion.” Fountains of Wayne then piece together one of the best opening series of songs on any pop album. Next up is the satirical “Bright Future in Sales.” This song includes a guitar riff very reminiscent of the Cars but with much smarter lyrics. “Stacy’s Mom,” which has been receiving heavy rotation on MTV and radio stations, follows. The harmonies and synthesizer riff in the chorus of “Stacy’s Mom” carry this witty song about a man’s obsession with his girlfriend’s mom.

One of the best tracks on the album, “Hackensack,” continues the trend of catchy pop tunes, but in a different light. “Hackensack” is a mainly acoustic song modeled after the Beach Boys and the Beatles. This is a recurring theme on Welcome Interstate Managers: ’60s acoustic pop. Other songs like “Valley Winter Song” and “All Kinds of Time” sound like Fountains of Wayne are channeling Brian Wilson through their songs.

Possibly the best track on the album, “All Kinds of Time” will ring true in any Notre Dame student’s heart. The lyrics depict a young quarterback struggling in his first season, but with four seconds he suddenly takes control of the game. Brady Quinn should listen to this song every second of the day for the rest of the season, so the soothing acoustic guitars and dreamy guitar solos can permeate his brain and inspire him to lead the Irish to victory.

But, very much like the Irish this football season, Welcome Interstate Managers turns south quickly. While the first half of the album may be fantastic power pop, the second half stumbles as Fountains of Wayne attempts to experiment with different genres. “Hung Up on You,” for example, is a country song featuring a slide guitar and less than intelligent lyrics seems out of place amidst the alt-rock pop gems and acoustic ballads. “Halley’s Waitress” also feels out of place. This piano-driven song with a synth-orchestra feels more like a lounge song than a fun pop song.

Fountains of Wayne have penned a fantastic power pop album, but it should have been much shorter. The 16-song album gets boring and repetitious after the first nine songs. The rest of the album sounds like filler material, but not horrible material. While the last seven songs seem out of place, they are still well-crafted songs but just can’t live up to the first half. Welcome Interstate Managers has musical hooks in the first half that would rival Mike Tyson, but they fizzle out too quickly and bore the listener. This is a great album, however, and the first half is great for any music fan who wants to satisfy his or her guilty pleasures for great power pop music.

Contact Ryan Rafferty at rraffert@nd.edu