Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fountains of Wayne

  • Fountains of Wayne [Atlantic, 1996] A-
  • Utopia Parkway [Atlantic, 1999] A-
  • Welcome Interstate Managers [S-Curve, 2003] A-
  • Out-of-State Plates [Virgin, 2005] A-
  • Traffic and Weather [Virgin, 2007] A
  • Sky Full of Holes [Yep Roc, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Fountains of Wayne [Atlantic, 1996]
Given that one of the two songwriters who constitute this theoretical band is also their drummer, they're pretty Apollonian. And maybe that's why. Lulled into a formalistic revery by their catchy choruses, you assume their content is as null as their groove. But in fact they're so girl-shy it's thematic, and refreshingly empathetic about women with problems, including the one who needs a sick day. In the closing sequence they ask her to leave the biker; warn him* not to curse at the fairer sex; hope she doesn't rock them tonight; and quietly conclude that for all their efforts "Everything's Ruined." (*Not the biker--for that they don't have the balls.) A-

Utopia Parkway [Atlantic, 1999]
Utopia Parkway, I happen to recall, traverses the Manhattan-side portion of Bayside a/k/a Clearview in Queens. Need I add that the view there is no more clear than the parkway is utopian? So while in a sense they've moved on to their suburban album, it ain't really the suburbs. Even "Troubled Times" is a relationship song, albeit a mature one, as for that matter is "Prom Theme," which is really about the last day of your life. The "Go, Hippie"-"A Fine Day for a Parade"-"Amity Gardens" triptych, on the other hand, are kind of suburban. They're also why I've spent my post-prom years in neither Queens nor Wayne. A-

Welcome Interstate Managers [S-Curve, 2003]
Their tunes have always seemed too facile, but seven years divided by three albums doesn't equal glib, especially with those years deepening their lyricism rather than their cynicism. Failure's been good for them too, putting meat on the failures they imagine--their young drunk with a dark future in sales scares up our pity, and though their young quarterback will complete his pass, they know nobody has "All Kinds of Time." Note that the protagonist in the next song is caught in a traffic jam. If they keep going, they may even feel a few females. A-

Out-of-State Plates [Virgin, 2005]
See: Baby One More Time. A-

Traffic and Weather [Virgin, 2007]
If Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger were mere satirists, they would be They Might Be Giants. Instead they're lyric poets of what a more naive era called yuppieness, only now we know things aren't so simple--even middle-class people who just want to make some dough are in trouble if they were born after, say, 1965. The title newspeople, the lawyer and the photo assistant who beats him for a cab? They're doing OK. But the guy who's accessorizing his "'92 Subaru"? Much less so. "Strapped for Cash"'s gambler anonymous? Not at all. And it's to the band's credit that they want us to know that. But when they home in on the economic, they tend to be satirists only, so it's crucial that as pop adepts who know what closes on Saturday night, they also traffic in romance--and weather it. Sometimes they're hopeless at love, like the lonely antagonists in that cab drama called "Someone to Love"; sometimes, as in the DMV fantasy "Yolanda Hayes," they're delusional in a nice way; sometimes, as in "I-95" and "Fire in the Canyon," they're troubled. So they all need "Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim," where love triumphs over the geographical displacements that skew so many of these songs. They all also need tunes you'll hum, and get them. A

Sky Full of Holes [Yep Roc, 2011]
This leads mean, devastatingly so. The family who own "The Summer Place" is tragic and/or pathetic while "Richie and Ruben" and their "bar called Living Hell" are comic and/or repugnant, but both portraits feed off a dismay with the affluent professional world genius hookmeisters are privy to. Eventually the album warms up--"A Road Song," from a tour bus out of Green Bay, is the most touching love song yet from guys who've written more than you think, and "Workingman's Hands" dares Alan Jackson to cover it. What's missing is any sense of why these four songs are on the same album. Genius hookmeisters can do what they please, but here the genius has holes like the sky of the title, which were put there by a 21-gun salute it shouldn't have taken me 12 plays to notice. A-

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