Traffic And Weather: Spinning The New Fountains Of Wayne Disc
Finally, after a four year wait, Fountains Of Wayne have seen fit to drop their latest Power-Pop confection upon an unsuspecting public. And I'm happy to say that Traffic And Weather has been well worth the wait. While they did release an odds and sods collection in the meantime, made up of B-sides, bonus tracks, and other previously unavailable tunes on the 2-disc Out Of State Plates, there's been nothing brand new from the band since Welcome Interstate Managers. As fast as things move and tastes change in the constantly shifting equation between music and music fans, especially in these days of Internet hype for the Next! Big! Thing! four years is almost an eternity. I often wondered if the band would be able to sustain the forward momentum they gathered when "Stacy's Mom" - their big hit single from Welcome Interstate Managers - and its corresponding video, featuring the vivacious Rachael Hunter, turned on thousands of new fans to the pleasures of the best band currently plying the Power-Pop waters. New fans and older fans alike, will surely be pleased with the continuing quality of the tuneage. Whether or not any of the songs will hit it huge is largely a matter of luck. Honestly, three quarters of the new songs are more than good enough for radio airplay. Hell, let's be honest here: with the exception of one or two songs, this album's assembled songs easily surpass most singles now playing on the radio - a fact that has little to do with quality and lots to do with payola, marketing, PR, and a host of industry-related shenanigans that often means that quality music will take a back seat to flavor-of-the-moment mediocrity.
After spinning the new disc continuously since it arrived via DHL a day after its release, my ears and my head have once again become solidly entranced in the always clever songwriting of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood. Their formula has always been pretty much the same (to the apparent dismay of the doofusses [doofii?] at Pitchfork and Stylus): combine everyday characters like those found in any town or city, and put them in a quirky, ironic situation while telling a clever story about their exploits regarding life's little curveballs, strike-outs and occasional home-runs. Now anyone can tell a story, but few people have the talent to marry said tales with such insanely catchy music. Their latest forays into storytelling feature immensely satisfying little vignettes that retain all of the clever wordplay that longtime fans have come to expect. Also expected (and happily present) are all of the hooky choruses intermingling with guitars and synths to reach out and Super Glue themselves to any and all ears that are open in the slightest. Consisting of 14 tracks (see below) and clocking in at a little over 47 minutes this is a well-sequenced and favorably-paced disc that has a lot to love and little to dismiss.
1. Someone To Love
2. '92 Subaru
3. Yolanda Hayes
4. Traffic And Weather
5. Fire In The Canyon
6. This Better Be Good
7. Revolving Dora
8. Michael And Heather At The Baggage Claim
9. Strapped For Cash
11. Hotel Majestic
12. Planet Of Weed
13. New Routine
14. Seatbacks And Traytables
The lots to love section:
"Someone To Love" starts things off in typical FOW style: uptempo synths and guitars and lyrics with those appealing choruses that you can sing along with almost immediately. The two protagonists in the song are looking for love - the fates conspire against them. Instant fave.
In "Yolanda Hayes" love slowly blossoms between a customer and a DMV clerk. Sweet, clever, and nicely done. Another fave.
"Traffic And Weather" has a harder-edged sound with the guitars slowly recycling the same melodic loop as an anchorman looks to seduce his on-air partner. This one's a bit of a grower.
"Fire In The Canyon" continues the band's flirtation with Country-fied pop that cropped up most noticeably on WIM's "Hung Up On You" and also shows that their recent stint helping out on America's comeback album Here And Now has been influential to some degree.
"This Better Be Good," "Revolving Dora," and "Michael And Heather At The Baggage Claim" are all fine mid-tempo FOW songs featuring those that are lonesome, and those that are in love. They're all good and hummable, but clearly a step down from the album's stronger cuts.
"Strapped For Cash" finds a character on the run from the bookie he owes money to. Horns, synths, and ultra-hooky goodness abound. Quality song.
"I-95" is one of those mellow, poignant slice-of-life songs that these guys do so well. "It's a nine hour drive from me to you/South on I-95 and I'll do it 'til the day I die/If I need to/ Just to see you." Good stuff.
"The Hotel Majestic" opens with swirling synths and seems to find a house band stuck in a dreary, never-ending gig at the Hotel Majestic. Excellent lyrics and vocals, plus some cool piano parts really sell this one. Earworm city and another fave.
"New Routine" finds a group of interconnected characters traipsing around the globe in search of something new. This is an absolutely sublime song and is my favorite tune here. This one ranks right up there with any of their classics. Clever, clever lyrics and the hooks just reach out and slam you again and again. Power-Pop nirvana!
"Seatbacks And Traytables Up" is another beautiful Americana-influenced song regarding the endless travels life sends folks on. Very nice.
Little to dismiss section:
Thought they could've cut "Planet Of Weed" and nobody would've missed it. It's a half-baked :-) paean to the wonders of Mary Jane that just comes off as a novelty track which ends up going nowhere.
The only other track to give me pause was "'92 Subaru" and after hearing it dozens of times, I've come around on it a bit - probably because it attaches itself with relentless abandon in your brain despite any misgivings about it sounding a bit forced together.
All in all, this an excellent album and should please any and all fans of both FOW in specific and Power-Pop in general. Highly recommended.