Review Summary: Finding it harder and harder to care about the past.
I am hopelessly addicted to nostalgia. In this I don’t think I’m that much different from the rest of the world. I dread growing older, I have a peculiar affinity for keeping useless junk that long ago grew thick with dust around in various drawers and desk corners, I refuse to throw away concert t-shirts from half a decade ago – in short, I don’t let go of the past easily. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to break, but few things make that harder than music. Listening to Elliott Smith reminds me of a hundred different things, from middle school to break ups, while the Stills remind me of the last summer before college and Cut Copy vividly recreates living in my fraternity house two years ago. Fountains of Wayne, meanwhile, conjures up my first year in high school, a time when I thought I was so ***ing cool for listening to Welcome Interstate Managers
before “Stacy’s Mom” hit the radio (I’m either the only person to do this or my memory of myself in high school is a lot more flattering than reality). Welcome Interstate Managers
was one of the first legit power-pop records I’d ever listened to, and I could have done a lot worse. It’s FoW at their most wry, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger at the peak of their tongue-in-cheek lyrical powers and with sixteen killer hooks to boot. I bring all this up because, in the context of their follow-ups, 2007’s Traffic and Weather
and now Sky Full of Holes
, I feel like nostalgia has betrayed me once again.
Was Welcome Interstate Managers
a great record? Listening to it again I love every second of it, even the ill-advised country romp, yet I hesitate to label it as such without worrying about my nostalgic affection for it, an unreasonable adoration based more upon what doors it opened for me musically and because “Hackensack” made my first crush swoon. Sky Full of Holes
, in style and in execution, is not that much different from Welcome Interstate Managers
, yet 22-year-old me has trouble finding anything to enjoy in it. I want to say that the hooks just aren’t as good as they used to be, but “The Summer Place” and “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” are the stuff power-pop wet dreams are made of. I want to say that Schlesinger and Collingwood’s inane slice-of-life lyrics have begun to grate, but their rhymes have always been banal and their massive cast of characters predictably caricatured. This is a band that has always been resistant to change, but power-pop bands make their living with their melodies, and FoW have always had those in plentiful supply.
So is it Fountains of Wayne’s fault that Sky Full of Holes
doesn’t have me humming its tunes under my breath for weeks on end, or is it my own romantic expectations that can never reasonably be fulfilled? I can appreciate what the band is doing here, favoring acoustic-based melodies over bombastic choruses and poor diversions into genre traps that made nearly half of Traffic and Weather
nigh unlistenable. As Sky Full of Holes
rolls along, however, and the hooks don’t punch quite as urgently as “The Summer Place” or as smoothly as “A Dip In The Ocean,” it just seems like another entry in the FoW School of Songwriting. Create motley cast of everyday characters, like a pair of failed businessmen (“Richie and Ruben”). Write a song about their personal problems, preferably with cultural references that are sure to date your album, like the unnecessary Will Ferrell name drop on “A Road Song.” Throw in an aces hook that almost makes all these mundane Everyman problems seem worthwhile and you have your next Fountains of Wayne single, albeit one that sounds pretty damn similar to the one before and after it.
I recognize that this is the exact formula that was used on Welcome Interstate Managers
and Utopia Parkway
before it, but I can’t reconcile those two power-pop prototypes with this humdrum drudgery. There’s something to be said for consistency, and for fifteen years Fountains of Wayne have been nothing short of the pinnacles of consistency. Yet there’s also something to be said for taking a fresh tack on things, refusing to grow stale and creating something that will cause someone to look back fondly years and years later and remember the good times and the bad times that that record soundtracked. Perhaps Sky Full of Holes
will be that album to some impressionable youth whose idea of power pop revolves around Justin Bieber ballads, but for longtime fans it just sounds tired and dusty. Fountains of Wayne are still doing what they’ve always done, but I think I’ve finally grown up.