The first thing to remind me of the imminent return of the season of simplicity was not baseball’s opening day, but Fountains of Wayne’s new album, Traffic and Weather.
It’s springtime in America, after all, and we all know summer is right around the corner. This usually means the beach, camping trips, the 4th of July, Big Gulps and brainless Hollywood blockbusters. It’s also time for some uncomplicated, easygoing pop-rock.
For those of you who don’t think you know Fountains of Wayne, yes you do. The band was formed in the mid-‘90s by Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, who brought Jody Porter and Brian Young onboard to play guitar and drums, respectively. Schlesinger’s made personal strides in making good music for bad movies: The theme song to the schlocky That Thing You Do! and several for the Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant disaster, Music & Lyrics.
But more importantly, the Grammy-nominated Fountains provided “Stacy’s Mom,” the unequivocal anthem for the summer of 2003, which gave lust-laden boys everywhere a sorely needed voice aimed at the women who insist on teasing them. And to think, they could have taken the easy route with a sequel track, chanting, “I know it might be wrong, but I got down with Stacy’s mom.” (This would not have been a wise move and I commend their choices.)
Traffic and Weather holds no such tales of libido madness; instead, we have stories of small towns, dying love, love reborn, waitress life, drug apathy and more. The lyrics invite us to listen intently and follow the themes as they carry over from one track to the next.
But we certainly have the right to choose, as I don’t think paying attention to every word is required to enjoy these ditties. Take the first track, “Someone To Love,” likely the record’s first single: It’s a methodic and catchy beat with lyrics involving multiple characters and their loneliness. The chorus has the sensual touch of female back-up vocals that I think we’ll be hearing a lot of on the radio.
The album’s weakest track is “92 Subaru.” The lines, “Better make way coz I’m coming through/in my late 92, baby blue Subaru,” leave something to be desired, which is satiated quickly with “Yolanda Hayes,” the next more accessible beat. Sure, I expect to hear its chorus in a bunch of TV comedy spots, but that’s because it’s a purple ball of cotton fluff.
Not that the entire thing is mindless, per se. The chorus of “Fire In The Canyon” provides the album's most poignant line regarding small town life: “Leave us to be born into path so straight and narrow/on every crooked road we travel down.” And “Michael and Hannah,” even with its thinly veiled pop ripple, has a striking tone of doomed love; I do sincerely hope it works out for those two.
Then comes my personal favorite, the title track “Traffic and Weather.” If “ooooh, we belong together, like traffic and weather” doesn’t exude a positive, carefree spirit, I don’t know what does. At the very least, it’s always nice to see that the local news can still inspire more in a person than flipping the channel.
Traffic and Weather is an enjoyable effort, but it’s meant to be enjoyed now, not later. It makes many modern and pop culture references (Costco, "King of Queens"), which will prevent the album from aging gracefully. In the meantime, crank this baby up while sunbathing or during a tumultuous balloon fight on a gorgeous day. And although I may be signing the yearbook a tad early, have a kick-ass summer.
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