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Fountains of Wayne

Utopia Parkway Fountains of Wayne

Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood met at Williams College in Massachusetts. They formed Fountains of Wayne, christening themselves after a garden furniture and statuary store in Wayne, New Jersey. Although the pair recorded their debut largely independently, they were joined on tour and on subsequent albums by guitarist Jody Porter and Posies drummer Brian Young.

If the quality of pop music could be measured by the quantity of memorable choruses and hooks, there’s a case for Fountains Of Wayne being the greatest pop band since the 1960s British invasion. Their first two albums are fun, but the deeper you journey into their discography the less convincing it becomes.

Fountains of Wayne’s lyrics lack any form of personal conviction or empathy, instead serving up irony-laced stories of office workers and suburbanites, like ‘Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim’. Schlesinger and Collingwood are intelligent operators, but their detached brand of pop, dealing in the mundane, can ultimately feel hollow, especially on their weaker albums.

Fountains of Wayne Album Reviews

Fountains of Wayne | Utopia Parkway | Welcome Interstate Managers | Out-of-State Plates | Traffic and Weather | Sky Full of Holes

Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne debut

1996, 7.5/10
Fountains of Wayne’s debut album is their most stylistically homogeneous record, which is generally a good thing as this band’s often strongest at straight up power-pop. The band’s formula of marrying abrasive guitars to bright pop melodies is effective. Fountains of Wayne was recorded by Schlesinger and Collingwood as the only official group members, with Danny Weinkauf, who’d later join They Might Be Giants, guesting on bass.

Only the slowed down, reverb-heavy closer ‘Everything’s Ruined’ deviates from the formula, although stand-out track ‘Sick Day’ throws in jazzy keyboard breaks and acoustic guitars. And there’s plenty of enjoyable riff rockers like the dorky ‘Leave The Biker’ (“I wonder if he ever has cried/Because his kitten got run over and died”), ‘Sink To The Bottom’, and ‘Radiation Vibe’.

Occasionally Fountains of Wayne verges on banality, like ‘Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight’, but it’s mostly fun; soulless and disposable, yet without compromising on intelligence or pop-craft.


Utopia Parkway

Utopia Parkway Fountains of Wayne

1999, 8/10
For their sophomore effort, Fountains of Wayne trade the straight up power pop of their debut for a wider lens; while there are still plenty of guitar rockers like ‘Denise’ and ‘Lost In Space’, they also veer across the pop map, from the string soaked balladry of ‘Prom Theme’ to the psychedelic ‘Go, Hippie’. This confidence results in a stronger album than their debut, as it has a core of excellent songs that are superior to the best songs from the preceding album. But countering this, there are a few too many songs that simply don’t work; the goofy ‘Hat And Feet’, the sappy ‘Prom Theme’ and irritating ‘Laser Show’ all highlight the group’s inherent goofiness.

Take away the three missteps above though, and there’s an excellent twelve song album here. ‘Troubled Times’ is a glorious piece of acoustic driven power pop, sounding more heartfelt than almost anything else in the band’s catalogue (“Maybe one day soon it will all come out/How you dream about each other sometimes”), and incorporating a soaring chorus, a beautifully constructed middle eight, and a monster bass hit in the pre-chorus. While songs like ‘Denise’ and ‘I Know You Well’ are elegant in their simplicity, some of these tracks are much more intricate; the verse of ‘Amity Gardens’ is disarmingly melodically and rhythmically complex, while ‘Go, Hippie’ launches into a heavy guitar attack and impressive solo. Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith guests on backing vocals on the pretty ‘Fine Day For A Parade’.

Utopia Parkway needs pruning, but it still stands as Fountains of Wayne’s best album. After Utopia Parkway failed to break them as a major commercial act, they took a break, with Schlesinger rejoining his previous band Ivy, and Collingwood forming country-rock band Gay Potatoes, before reconvening for 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers.


Welcome Interstate Managers

Welcome Interstate Managers Fountains of Wayne

2003, 7/10
Welcome Interstate Managers featured the hit ‘Stacy’s Mom’, which amusingly garnered a best new artist Grammy nomination for a band who’d previously released two major label albums. Despite the extra attention that Welcome Interstate Managers received, it’s a little weaker than their previous albums. It’s too long, and the artifice that’s always been a niggling feature of this band is too clearly showing over the album’s sixteen tracks

Welcome Interstate Managers is front-loaded – the opener ‘Mexican Wine’ is the strongest song with its arrangement that leaves out the rhythm section until the second verse. The tantalising keyboard riff that leaves the listener dangling before the second verse is a piece of arranging brilliance. The hit ‘Stacy’s Mom’ is hooky and overtly poppy, and it’s probably the song that Fountains of Wayne will be remembered for, for better or worse, while there’s more memorable power pop with ‘No Better Place’. Pretty songs like ‘Halley’s Waitress’ and ‘All Kinds of Time’ helps to make the later parts of the album enjoyable, but all the best songs are near the start.

More than ever for Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers is pushing into guilty pleasure territory – there are good tunes, but it’s too insincere to love whole-heartedly.


Out-of-State Plates

2006, not rated
A double CD compilation of outtakes and b-sides. Thirty tracks seems like overkill, but covers of Aztec Camera and Jackson Browne are interesting.


Traffic and Weather

2007, 6/10
Fountains of Wayne took four years to release a followup to ‘Stacy’s Mom’. The group originally tried to develop the songs out of jam sessions, to get Porter and Young more involved, but only ‘Strapped For Cash’ was used for the record. Collingwood was struggling with personal issues, so most of Traffic and Weather was written by Schlesinger. As the title implies, the record’s more prepossessed with mundane issues than ever, and dorky lyrics like ‘Planet of Weed’ and ‘Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim’ are to the record’s detriment.

Traffic and Weather was the weakest Fountains of Wayne album to date, but there’s at least one great song; ‘Yolanda Hayes’, the tale of a dissatisfied DMV employee, has a great verse melody and trumpet despite the generic “who do you love?” chorus. ‘Strapped for Cash’ is reminiscent of the first album’s ‘Sick Day’, with its jazzy keyboards, while ‘Someone To Love’ is an enjoyably propulsive opener.

More than ever before Fountains of Wayne’s shtick is formulaic on Traffic and Weather, but there are strong songs to dig out if you’re a fan.


Sky Full of Holes

2011, not rated
Sky Full of Holes is likely to be Fountains of Wayne’s final album – tensions between Collingwood and Schlesinger made recording and touring the album difficult. Sky Full of Holes is reportedly it’s more acoustic than their previous albums.

Ten Best Fountains of Wayne Songs

Troubled Times
Sick Day
Mexican Wine
Yolanda Hayes
Denise
Fine Day for a Parade
Amity Gardens
Radiation Vibe
Stacy’s Mom
Go, Hippie

Return to 1990s Album Reviews

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