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Utopia Parkway – Fountains of Wayne

Utopia Parkway

(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 exacerbate 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 the band’s best album to date. After Utopia Parkway failed to break the band 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.

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