Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Best of 2007 Album Review: Fountains of Wayne -- Traffic and Weather

The fourth in a series of reviews covering my favorite records of 2007. At number two on the list:

I've treated several of the albums on my 2007 Best of ... list like they were novels, with an overarcing plot and a denouement.

But at number two is a record that plays more like a collection of short stories. It's the latest effort from New Jersey's own Bon Jovi!

No. Not them. They're on a different list. It's actually New Jersey's own Fountains of Wayne!

With songwriting by Chris Collingwood and Oscar nominee Adam Schlesinger that harkens back to the minimalist portraits drawn by Ray Davies and the mid to late sixties Kinks, Traffic and Weather is a phenomenal collection of character studies and plot twists.

Some of the people we meet along the way include:

Seth Shapiro, a lawyer from Brooklyn and Beth MacKenzie, a magazine photo retoucher, who seem meant for each other, but are doomed to never connect.

Yolanda Hayes, DMV employee and sex symbol.

Real-life newspeople Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons, the objects of a hazy daydream where they end up all over each other on "The Six O'Clock News."

Revolving Dora, who appears to be able to defy the laws of gravity.

And Michael and Heather, who reaffirm their love for each other while waiting for their luggage.

And that's just the examples that are specifically named. There are also disarmingly detailed portraits of a couple of old men who look like Carl Reiner, the waitress who serves them who chucks it all one day to move to Lichtenstein, the guy who (with the help of cousin Gary) is fixing up his late '92 Subaru, the gent whose so broke that his Saturdays consist of checking out the women on Spanish television, and the high school kids running up and down the halls of The Hotel Majestic, keeping the business travellers awake.

And there are more besides, but I'm starting to run into bandwidth issues.

The precision of the lyrics throughout is a wonder to behold. Here's a scene setting description of an interstate gas station from "I-95" : "They sell posters of girls washing cars, and unicorns and stars, and Guns 'N' Roses album covers. They've got most of the 'Barney' DVDs, coffee mugs and tees that say 'Virginia is for Lovers.' But it's not."

Great as the lyrics are, all this wordsmithery would be beside the point if the music accompanying it was subpar. But it's not. Instead it's a dead solid collection of guitar-based power pop and hook-heavy rock and roll; it's so good that if this album were an instrumental, it would still have made my Top Ten.

But I'm glad they decided to warble a few words.

Click here to see Fountains of Wayne's video for "Someone to Love," featuring Demetri Martin as Seth Shapiro.

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