Sky Full of Holes

Fountains of Wayne have three problems. The first is a problem that many bands wish they had. After releasing a pleasant-enough self-titled first album, they followed up with Utopia Parkway, which is an absolute masterpiece. After that, things are bound to be at least a little bit of a letdown.

The second problem is what happened next. They released Welcome Interstate Managers which is a great — if maybe one or two tracks too long — album, but only got recognition for one song, a light, number called “Stacy’s Mom”. It was a hit for them, but was pegged as a “novelty” number, and they disappeared from the mainstream radar once summer was over. (You can’t even use the old excuse that “Stacy’s Mom” was unlike their other stuff — it wasn’t. Its catchy music and lyrics of a loser who is obsessed with a woman who doesn’t know he’s alive is standard FoW territory.)

That brings us to the third problem and the fourth album, Traffic and Weather. Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood can obviously write snappy power-pop hooks in their sleep, and have no trouble filling notebooks with lyrics about suburban characters whose lives have not gone they way they’d like. Traffic and Weather wasn’t a bad album, but it felt like the guys were on cruise control. Few of the tracks stand out and most are things we’ve heard from them many times before. The title track is a departure from the norm for them but on the other hand, it’s not particularly good.

And now there’s Sky Full of Holes, the band’s newest release. And that third problem remains.

It’s not a bad album; I like most of the songs on it. But I also liked them the first time this band did them. With few exceptions every song here is an echo of an earlier, better song (or songs). It’s like listening to Welcome Interstate Managers in another room with a glass to the wall. The standout track for me is “Acela”, but the album starts out strong overall. It eventually starts to meander and then next thing you know, it’s done.

Again, this is not bad stuff. A lot of it actually goes beyond the hapless schmucks in their late 20s and instead looks at hapless schmucks in their late 30s, so there’s a kind of growth there. (As a personal note though, I really think we now have a sufficient supply of songs where some guy tells a basket case of a girl to get her life together, as in, “I Hate to See You Like This”.)

If you like Fountains of Wayne, you’ll like this album. That’s pretty much a guarantee. But while it expands the width of the band it doesn’t really add much to the depth, and that’s a shame. It’s already a crime that mainstream listeners don’t appreciate these guys; I don’t want to listen to the band not really appreciating itself.

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