Release Date: Aug 2, 2011
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
For 15 years, Fountains of Wayne have been rock's sharpest storytellers, chronicling the dreams and setbacks of middle-class types with heartbreaking precision and crunchy guitar hooks. Their fifth LP is rootsier than usual, but the characters are as vivid as ever. There's the boozer looking for love on an Amtrak ("Acela"); the woman reliving teenage nightmares at her parents' country house ("The Summer Place"); the hapless hipster entrepreneurs in "Richie and Ruben." The songs are filled with jokes - but the punch lines often turn into epiphanies.
The beloved power-pop veterans dial down the big guitars and slick synths of yore on Sky Full of Holes, a relatively rootsy effort. If the sound has shifted, though, the songs remain the same: wittily observed slice-of-life tales from lives you’re thankful not to call your own. ”They opened up a bar called Living Hell,” frontman Chris Collingwood sings over a folksy shuffle on ”Richie and Ruben.” ”Right from the start it didn’t go too well.” Boo-hoo, meet ha-ha.
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.
On their fifth album, Fountains of Wayne appear to have tired of rocking. Gone are the massive arena rock choruses that were the sugar on their tart character sketches; this time the New York powerpop band have eschewed the power in favour of a more sedate sound, the dominant texture being acoustic guitar overlaid with muted electrics. It suits them: Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger have lost none of their facility with melody, and the gentler approach makes the lyrics seem more empathetic.
We all come of age at our own pace. If you equate that to a musical career, Fountains of Wayne have sustained the music industry slump for over fifteen years without the slightest sigh of defeat. Possibly due to a wide gap between each consequent record, the cast-iron power pop troupe has imparted a healthy dose of dry wit with an unassuming touch of class that is always outside of the current generational lens.
Veteran New York power-poppers Fountains of Wayne moved to Yep Roc for their rootsy fifth album, which sounds a bit like the Kinks and Tom Petty filtered through 90s MTV rotation. Not so surprising, considering the band debuted in 1996. Songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger showcase their trademark storytelling, only this time their humour is less cutting.
Despite their best efforts, Fountains of Wayne didn’t quite manage to capitalize on the crossover success of “Stacey’s Mom” with 2007’s Traffic and Weather, so hearing the power poppers relax into a working band’s groove on 2011’s Sky Full of Holes is not entirely unexpected. Traffic and Weather had some snap on its surface, thanks largely to the bandmembers running with their encyclopedic pop eclecticism, letting themselves sonically accentuate their witticisms with passing production allusions, but Sky Full of Holes is an adult alternative pop record through and through, unfussy and unfettered by unnecessary accouterments. It’s not necessarily drab -- “Radio Bar” speeds along with the assistance of blaring horns mimicking the vocal line -- but it is straightforward, the songs never reaching beyond the expected, the color never seeping outside of the lines.
It would be a mistake to refer to Sky Full of Holes as Fountains of Wayne’s “serious” album, though it’s far and away the band’s mellowest and most deliberately midtempo record to date. The juvenile wordplays, ironic pop-culture references, and narratives about sad-sack folks undone by mundane, everyday minutia that are among the band’s trademarks remain fully intact: The content of the songs on Sky Full of Holes is, by and large, as wry and idiosyncratic as their songs have ever been. It’s the lack of punch in the arrangements of those songs, particularly in the latter half of the album, that is the most noticeable change in the band’s style, and it isn’t necessarily a good one.
Fountains Of Wayne weren’t always this boring, were they? Unintentionally or not, with Sky Full Of Holes they have produced the equivalent to the soundtrack to a laugh free Sandra Bullock rom com. It’s a demographic straddling sonic snore-fest that simultaneously caters for everybody and nobody. Songs about ordinary people, real people, people on hard drugs and people on soft drugs.
By now Fountains of Wayne has perfected its stock in trade: albums that mix witty lyrics and poppy melodies with the occasional country or lounge-esque diversion. And Sky Full of Holes fits that formula to a tee..
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.
Yes, the band that informed you that Stacy’s Mom, indeed, had it going on, is back with their new album, Sky Full of Holes. It’s been four years since Fountains of Wayne‘s last release, and the pop-rock band has taken that time away to create their latest disc of stories, and characters, but this time, the results seem more personal and aged. Like all their albums, you will find elementary rhymes and clever word play, but the usual presence of humor is missing throughout much of the disc.
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE “Sky Full of Holes” (Yep Roc) Wise guys with flashes of empathy: that’s Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, who collaborate in Fountains of Wayne. Since 1996 they have been writing finely observed, neatly rhymed character studies set to sleekly produced pop-rock. They take their time. “Sky Full of Holes,” the fifth studio album by Fountains of Wayne, is their first since 2007, and the songs cut back on smirking.
Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger established themselves five albums ago as power-pop-meisters, jointly ruling a land where guitars jangle, hooks grow on trees, no rhyme is too clever, and no schmoe’s story is too sad to celebrate in song. Does the fact that Fountains of Wayne can be counted on to deliver a solid album’s worth of smart, Raymond Carver-esque lyrics and sturdy pop melodies mean they have gotten predictable, or simply effortlessly skilled at their craft? Fans might lean toward the latter, while more casual listeners may find that even the catchy, well-played material here seems blandly familiar, like songs conceived for a movie soundtrack. Collingwood’s nasal vocals–part charming limitation, part annoying affectation–can wear thin, even when sweetened by pristine guitar arrangements and perfect backing harmonies.
As evidenced by the red-raw rock & roll of The Jim Jones Revue, the priapic and shredded outpourings of Grinderman and the ongoing metaphysical and cosmic exploration of The Flaming Lips (and let's face it, there are many more examples to choose from), middle age isn't an automatic shoe in for the stereotypical image of pipes, slippers and a cosy Saturday night in front of the telly. For sure, the parameters of rock & roll have shifted to such a degree that it's quite possible that anyone under the age of 30 shouldn't be trusted rather than the ol' vice-versa adage. Shame that no one seems to have told Fountains Of Wayne.
Wry New York power-popsters can pen a tune, but can’t quite win your heart. Johnny Sharp 2011 There is a common misconception among British cultural snobs which says that Americans don’t ‘do’ irony. They obviously haven’t noticed the long tradition of US rock acts which have spent decades with their tongues spot-welded to the inside of their cheeks – acts like Ween, They Might Be Giants and Ben Folds.
If only Fountain of Wayne's overdue follow-up to 2007's Traffic and Weather were as strong as its first three bursts of distinctively seasonal East Coast pop. "The Summer Place" conjures a well-balanced mix of sun-warmed hooks and harrowing undertones in its depiction of rumpled old money on the way down, while "Richie and Ruben" nails the essence of hapless entrepreneurs who talk big games while crashing and burning one shoddy business scheme after another. "Acela" is a worthy contender for Amtrak's high-speed foray.