Release Date: Apr 3, 2007
Record label: Virgin
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Question: Which of these subjects receives a mention on Fountains of Wayne’s fourth studio album? Costco, Carl Reiner, Coldplay, or a ’92 Subaru? Answer: All are featured in the course of Traffic and Weather, which finds the quartet name-checking products and celebrities with almost hip-hop-style enthusiasm. True, songwriters Adam Schlesinger (who penned much of the soundtrack to the recent Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore rom-com Music and Lyrics) and Chris Collingwood have always peppered the band’s classic-pop-inspired guitar rock with cultural minutiae. They relentlessly scrutinize their characters’ foibles, travel habits, and occupations (the New Jersey pair are notably obsessed with the white-collar workplace, a legacy of their own pre-fame jobs as office temps).
Fountains of Wayne finally managed to score that big hit single their fans always knew they had in them when "Stacy's Mom" became a fluke hit a few months after the release of their third album, 2003's Welcome Interstate Mangers. Anybody worried that success had spoiled the power pop quartet shouldn't find their long-awaited fourth album, Traffic and Weather -- its title song a nifty ploy to get drive-time radio plugs, but also fitting right into the Jersey roadside themes of the titles -- a disappointment, nor should it offer much in way of surprises. Perhaps the slight traces of a disco-rock beat on the opening track/lead single, "Someone to Love," shows some evidence of copping to modern trends, but Fountains of Wayne still remain devotees of classic pop -- usually guitar-driven power pop, but they'll spike that with some Bacharach horns or country-rock if the mood strikes them.
There seems to be a simple formula for judging the success of Fountains of Wayne albums. When they have empathy for the protagonists of their powerpop character sketches, the results are delightful (as on their debut, and on their last, Welcome Interstate Managers). When they're sneering at the sad little lives of their subjects, it's a less happy experience (as on their second, and on large chunks of this, their fourth).
In anticipation of hurricane season, Fountains of Wayne proffers an uncommonly strong batch of shiny red pop songs as a salve for hot afternoon commutes with no air conditioning. Although their strivings toward pop-cultural zeitgeist seem quaint in an age of fragmentation, you have to admire Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger for their everyman voices and cheeky middlebrow wit. As its drive-time-inspired title suggests, Traffic and Weather concentrates on life and love in the ever-moving workaday world.