Look Park: Look Park

Fountains of Wayne's lead singer Chris Collingwood's new band sounds like a low-key version of his old band. This is a good thing, regardless of Collingwood's attempts to present Look Park as a distinct project.
Look Park
Look Park
Yep Roc

Chris Collingwood is best known as the lead singer and co-founder of power pop critical darlings Fountains of Wayne. And yet, for years he was treated as an afterthought to his more prolific co-founder, Adam Schlesinger. Collingwood was visible whenever Fountains of Wayne had a new album out, taking co-writing credits on every song, playing guitar, and singing the lead vocals. This is plenty for most artists, but Schlesinger did songs for movies, played in other bands, and generally employed his knack for catchy hooks anywhere he could. It’s one of those very rare times in the rock music pantheon where the bassist was more popular than the singer (hello, Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy!).

This debut album from Look Park finds Collingwood stepping away from Fountains of Wayne for the first time. He wrote all the songs, sang, and played most of the guitars and some of the keyboards. It has a slightly different vibe from most of Fountains of Wayne’s material, but most of that is a matter of arrangement, not songwriting. In a recent interview with PopMatters, Collingwood said: “It took a while to sort of figure out what I was going with, and some of the songs ended up sounding like Fountains of Wayne songs and I just kinda threw ‘em out thinking, like, I didn’t want to do that.” This is true to a point. Collingwood definitely chose songs for Look Park that are focused on sweet melodies more than big power pop hooks. But those well versed in the Fountains of Wayne discography will find plenty of comparable antecedents. Imagining a record full of “Valley Winter Song” gets you pretty close.

Collingwood leaves the distortion pedal in the box and arranges most of Look Park around piano, acoustic guitar, and other keyboards. This isn’t immediately evident, however, as opener “Shout Pt. 1” has a distinctive echoing and repeating electric guitar part, and is driven by its forceful drumbeat and active bassline. And while there is a noticeable acoustic guitar and plenty of keyboards filling out the sound, Collingwood’s big, catchy vocal melody soars over the top. The next song, “Stars of New York”, shifts gears into sparkling late ‘70s pop. Stylistically, it splits the difference between disco and yacht rock. Synth strings and hi-hat heavy drums give the song that disco shimmer, while the acoustic guitar strums and melodic, decidedly non-funky bass pull from the smooth radio pop of the era. Third song “Breezy”, on the other hand, is gentle, easygoing, and piano-based, with notable assists from tambourine and electric piano.

He takes a Southwest-flavored tack with “Minor is the Lonely Key”, which includes mariachi style guitar, shakers, and flutes. There’s even a distinctive cowboy guitar solo. “Save Yourself” highlights Collingwood’s occasionally dark sense of lyrics, where he builds a gorgeous song, complete with catchy acoustic guitar chords, distinct piano notes, and lovely strings and then subverts it all with the bummer of a chorus: “Save yourself / Save yourself / Because you can’t save the ones you love.” More wry is the ballad “Crash That Piano”, in which Collingwood spends the verses describing a band playing fast and loose with a classic song, then admonishing in the chorus, “You’re gonna crash that piano / If you don’t play it straight.”

Collingwood’s long career in Fountains of Wayne works as a double-edged sword here. He does a lot of things with Look Park to distinguish this band from his previous one: he’s working with producer Mitchell Froom, playing with different musicians, using different instruments, and downplaying some of the elements that Fountains of Wayne were best known for. Yet, his songwriting and his voice haven’t changed, so ultimately Look Park mostly sounds like a low-key Fountains of Wayne album. But here’s the thing, Fountains of Wayne was great, and Chris Collingwood is a great singer and a great songwriter, so Look Park ends up being pretty close to great as a result.

Collingwood might need to distance himself personally and mentally from his old band for a few more years, but hopefully he will eventually embrace the reality that he just sounds like himself, regardless of the band’s name. And as long as he takes a primary songwriting and singing role, that will continue to be the case. For example, “Aeroplane” and “You Can Come Round If You Want To” are two of Look Park’s best songs. The former is a sprightly track with a catchy, slightly wistful melody, and a big chorus buttressed by a pair of chiming guitar parts. There are two or three Fountains of Wayne songs about airplanes and this is a strong addition to that legacy. Similarly, “You Can Come Round If You Want To” recalls previous upbeat acoustic Collingwood tracks, and being favorably compared to “Hey Julie” is a huge compliment.

RATING 7 / 10