Tuneful Chroniclers of the Disenfranchised Return
If you love great pop and enjoy a good story in the process, run right out and purchase a copy of Fountain of Wayne‘s long-awaited third album. Welcome Interstate Managers is the welcome aural equivalent of a great collection of short stories, each song offering a little snippet from a life, and presenting a range of characters to fill this musical spectrum.
Perhaps this collection is a little more weighted toward the ballad end of things, but there is no drop in quality. If anything, FOW has managed to overcome the sort of emotional distance that critics cited in past works. Sure, there’s still the occasional wisecrack, but there’s also a newfound tenderness as well. Chris Collingwood and fellow FOWer Adam Schlessinger still have an uncanny ear for finding the subtle hooks that wend their ways into your subconscious, writing songs you’ll find yourself humming in the shower, or hearing upon awakening.
This time around the band numbers four, as Jody Porter (guitar, vocals) and Brian Young (drums, percussion) have become officially listed members. There are a variety of musical styles among these 16 tracks, and a good 55-minutes of fun listening.
The CD opens with “Mexican Wine”, a catchy song about drinking South-of-the-border wine and living with whatever comes your way. It makes a point of stressing horrible rhymes in its verses: “She lived alone in a small apartment / Across the street from the health department / She left her pills in the glove compartment / That was the afternoon her heart went”. Other verses involve a guy killed by a cellular phone explosion and a pilot forced to retire for reading High Times.
“Bright Future in Sales” would make a great upbeat single, were it not for the inclusion of a certain non-radio word in its chorus. Here is a guy who drinks too much and yet chides himself with concern for his corporate future: “I’m gonna get my shit together / ‘Cause I can’t live like this forever / You know I’ve come too far and I don’t want to fail / I got a new computer and a bright future in sales”. The honor of the first single instead goes to “Stacy’s Mom”, the new summer anthem of MILF-dom. Arranged in the Cars’ fashion, it’s the story of a young man obsessed with the mother of a friend, who’s “got it going on”.
The beautiful “Hackensack” tells the story of a working class Joe longing unrealistically after a local who has gone on to fame and fortune, and who’s willing to wait for her return: “I used to know you when we were young, you were in all my dreams / We sat together in period one Fridays at 8:15 / Now I see your face in the strangest places, movies and magazines / I saw you talkin’ to Christopher Walken on my TV screen / But I will wait for you as long as I need to /And if you ever get back to Hackensack, I’ll be here for you”.
Jen Trynin adds her vocals to the game on “No Better Place”, a guitar-laden tune of true regret about a friend leaving New York. Again alcohol is part of the proceedings, but the emotions are caught in the words so well: “The bourbon sits inside me and right now I’m a puppet in its sway / And it may be the whiskey talking, but the whiskey says I miss you everyday / So I taxi to an all-night party, park me in a corner in your old chair, sip my drink and stare out into space / Now you’re leaving New York, for no better place”.
“Valley Winter Song” is a tune about writing a song of solace for a friend who has just had too much New England Winter: “In late December, can drag a man down, you feel it deep in your gut / Short days and afternoons spent pottering around in a dark house with the windows painted shut / Remember New York and staring outside / As reckless winter made its way / From Staten Island to the upper West Side / Whiting out our streets along the way”.
What makes Collingwood & Schlessinger so special is the way they can find new topics for songs (like getting a tattoo, attending a planetarium’s laser show, etc). In “All Kinds of Time” we are shown the point-of-view of a quarterback and the thoughts going through his head before finding the open man and completing a pass. Former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha adds his guest guitar to this track.
The next two songs are variations on a theme, guys stuck in horrible dead-end jobs. In “Little Red Light” that guy also has the added misfortune of having been abandoned by his woman, and what’s more, his electronic equipment (sans red lights) seems to constantly remind him of this abandonment. So whether he’s stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee bridge or just pondering simpler times (or drinking), he’s not a very happy camper.
The guy in “Hey Julie” also has a terrible job, but his woman is his salvation, his key to surviving it: “Working all day for a mean little guy / With a bad toupee and a soup-stained tie / He’s got me running around the office like a gerbil on a wheel / He can tell me what to do, but he can’t tell me what to feel / Hey Julie look what they’re doing to me / Trying to trip me up, trying to wear me down / Julie I swear it’s so hard to bear it / and I’d never make it through without you around”.
Halley’s comet comes every 76 years or so, comparable to the appearance of “Halley’s Waitress”. This slow ballad dramatizes the tragicomic agonies of waiting for that epitome of sluggish inattentive service, complete with horns, harmonies and wah-wah pedal.
Collingwood and Schlessinger are musical chameleons, able to change colors and fit in well in a number of styles. Witness the fine job they do with the legit country song “Hung up on You”, featuring the expert pedal steel guitar strains of Robert Randolph. There’s no tongue in cheek here, the lyrics fit the genre expertly: “And I can’t dial the phone just now, even though I know your number / I can’t bring my broken heart to be untrue / Like you did today you’ll say goodbye the same old way / Ever since you hung up on me, I’m hung up on you”.
“Fire Island” is an argument for greater responsibility from undeserving youth, chronicling poor behaviors while claiming they’re old enough to take care of each other without parental supervision. It’s a distant musical cousin to some Elton John songs (I hear bits of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Harmony”), and features a nice flugelhorn solo from Ronnie Buttacavoli.
With “Peace and Love”, Collingwood and Schlessinger revert to their old form of tongue-in-cheek attack. The subject here is the not-so-smart hippie who espouses peace and love, and you get all the stereotypical aspects—the VW van, the vegan restaurant, Vermont, etc. Sure he’s harmless and well intentioned, but you get the sense that FOW aren’t very enamored of this kind of overly simplistic jingoism.
Another critical stab is taken with the harder edged rocker “Bought for a Song”. This time it’s all about endless touring in a band “when you stump for the man”. It’s all another big drunken mess (“Excuse me, I’m weaving as fast as I can”) trying to get from city to city, and the message: “Before you get sold, you get bought for a song”. “Supercollider” is FOW’s semi-psychedelic track while “Yours and Mine” is a one-minute story of a lovely shared Sunday morning.
Fountains Of Wayne have grown in the years since we last heard them on Utopia Parkway, and while there still remains a lot of NY/NJ Metro area references on Welcome Interstate Managers, this is a wider, more diverse offering from them. They show us that New Jersey is more than a state; it’s a state of mind. Here are the tales of winners and losers in love, dreamers, quarterbacks, waitresses, and a bunch of people who tend to drink excessively.
As always, the team of Collingwood and Schlessinger can craft perfect pop gems that crawl into your mind almost instantly. This CD has fast become a favorite around here, and is certainly one of the strongest releases of the year-to-date. Treat yourself to some interesting stories this summer—get a copy of Welcome Interstate Managers, kick back and soak up the infectious pop music amusements.