Do we really need two CDs worth of Fountains of Wayne B-sides and rarities? No, probably not. That hasn’t stopped the band from releasing one, nor should it stop you from enjoying it. Some of it is pretty good.
Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger have finally responded to the demands of their 16-year-old fans across the nation by compiling 28 obscure tacks for proper release. Don’t get me wrong, other fans have wanted to see these songs released, they just aren’t blogging about it. Also included here are two new tracks, “The Girl I Can’t Forget”, about a love affair that begins in a drunken haze, and “Maureen”, their best single since “Radiation Vibe”.
After a brief, slightly self-aggrandizing opening from NPR about the genius of power pop and Fountains of Wayne, “Maureen” comes rocketing out of the speakers with all of the pop gusto you’ve come to expect from this band. About an unrequited love affair with, you guessed it, a girl named Maureen, it is quintessential Fountains of Wayne—self-deprecating, humorous, sincere and catchy as hell. If this isn’t a summer hit, it’s only because they couldn’t get Rachel Hunter for the video.
“Maureen” sets the bar pretty high. However, to ensure you don’t expect too much from the album, Fountains of Wayne follow it up with the trite, “California Sex Lawyer”. What? Yeah, they named a song “California Sex Lawyer”. It’s absurd, and not in the clever, witty way. Most of the songs on Out of State Plates don’t reach the depths of this song. And while they never quite reach pinnacle of the opener, both discs have plenty of gems.
In addition to “Maureen”, disc one includes the mostly acoustic “I’ll Do the Driving”, a song that Collingwood writes in the liner notes, “pissed off my wife so much that I wish I’d never done it.” The lamenting “You’re Just Never Satisfied”, is archetypal Fountains of Wayne, while “I Want You Around”, is reminiscent of the recently disbanded Luna. Even a song like “Nightlight” which, when taken at face value seems banal, has an underpinning of sincerity and beauty, making it a terrific tune.
The second disc doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the first, as it dips into the ridiculous a little too early and little too frequently. However, it isn’t without its moments. “Elevator Up”, a song I presume to be about doing a couple of drugs (it may also be about Steven Tyler) is a gritty good time. The lyrics find the narrator strung out, reflecting on his weekend of debauchery and orgies and just wanting to get some sleep. By contrast “Kid Gloves”, is about the delicacy of love, while “She’s got a Problem” finds the songsters again tackling unrequited love (and biting Rick Springfield).
The ability of Fountains of Wayne to balance playfulness and sincerity is one of their most appealing aspects. Somehow they manage to seamlessly blend personal themes with fictional, often silly characters and circumstances. Collingwood and Schlesinger have a knack for spinning heartfelt and catchy tunes out of the seemingly mundane. Their talent for acute observation allows them the ability to create depth (sometimes humorous, sometimes emotional) behind the eyes of characters as random as carpet salesmen and Santa impersonators.
This approach to their songwriting is as evident in the covers they have selected as it is in their own work. In addition to covering Jeff Lynne and Aztec Camera, they’ve included songs as diverse as “...Baby, One More Time”, originally performed by Mrs. Federline, and the sublime “These Days” by Jackson Browne.
Still you say, “two discs worth of material?” I guess they could have whittled the track listing down to just one disc, but there’s no fun in that. If they had done that you may not get to hear “I Want an Alien for Christmas”. Besides, this isn’t for those of you who would ask such a question anyway. Out of State Plates was the band doing some spring cleaning for the sake of the diehard fans and music listeners who can’t resist the urge to purchase every version of “...Baby, One More Time” ever recorded.