Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes

Fountains of Wayne are like catnip to music nerds and rock critics. Sky Full of Holes proves that their stuff is as potent as ever.

Fountains of Wayne

Sky Full of Holes

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2011-08-02
UK Release Date: 2011-08-01

Fountains of Wayne are like catnip to music nerds and rock critics. They put out albums full of catchy power-pop songs that put most of mainstream pop music to shame. But since the band has never been flashy (or particularly well-marketed), the only impression they’ve made on the popular consciousness was the borderline novelty of “Stacy’s Mom", back in 2003. Still, the number of flat-out great songs co-leaders Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger have written is probably in the dozens by now. Especially when you consider that Schlesinger has become an in-demand ghostwriter for Hollywood, penning tracks for movies like Music and Lyrics and Josie and the Pussycats.

Still, one could be forgiven for wondering if Schlesinger and Collingwood still have that magic touch. The last Fountains of Wayne album, Traffic and Weather, was a solid effort, but not quite up to the band’s usual high standards. And then there was Tinted Windows, the 2009 Schlesinger-led supergroup that featured guitarist James Iha, singer Taylor Hanson, and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos. That was one of those ideas that sounded a lot better on paper than in the execution, and it featured some of the laziest songwriting Schlesinger’s ever done.

But maybe the tossed-off nature of Tinted Windows just proves that good power-pop takes time. Because Sky Full of Holes finds Fountains of Wayne back at the top of their game. From the rocking opener “The Summer Place” to the gentle closer “Cemetery Guns”, the album is full of great songs. The former features Schlesinger’s trademark hyper-specific lyrics, beginning with “She’s been afraid of the Cuisinart / Since 1977 / Now when she opens up the house / She won’t set foot in the kitchen”, and plenty of other bittersweet nostalgia for the family’s summer home. The song also features a catchy guitar lead, a beautiful melody in the verses, and a pounding chorus that’s subtly enhanced by Farfisa organ. “Cemetery Guns”, on the other hand, is a melancholy Collingwood song about military funerals. It’s the small touches that really sell the song, like the military snare and the quiet string accompaniment.

The rest of the album finds the band staying right in their comfort zone, and that familiarity pays dividends. Mid-tempo Schlesinger songs like the loping “Richie and Ruben” and the slightly bluesy “Acela” combine pitch-perfect songwriting with amusing narrative lyrics. Collingwood comes up with a gem in “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart.” Lyrically the song is much more impressionistic, running through individual moments before hitting the achingly lovely pre-chorus, then following it up with the catchy chorus couplet “Someone’s gonna break your heart / One cold gray morning”, and then piling on a series of irresistible “O-oh-woah-oh”’s after that. As if that wasn’t enough, the next Collingwood song on the album is the equally brilliant “Dip in the Ocean", an up-tempo rocker that loads up on at least four individual earworms, the best of which is the tightly layered three-part harmony on the lines “Give us a room with a mountain view / A tiny cabana by the water / Yeah, by the water.”

The missteps on Sky Full of Holes are few and far between, but Schlesinger’s “Action Hero” is a perfect example of what happens when his lyrical specificity works against him. The song itself is very strong, but lines like “His daughters both at once say / Can we just get going please? / And his wife begins to sneeze / And his son is throwing peas” cross the line from specific to cloying. Besides that, though, the album is just about as good as Fountains of Wayne have ever been. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the bulk of their catalog and continues the band’s clinic on great songwriting. Yeah, I was partaking of the Fountains of Wayne catnip when I was just a music nerd, and now that I’m also a rock critic I can say that their stuff is as potent as ever.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.