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of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
Posted: June 19,
It would have been easy for the songwriting tandem of Adam Schlesinger
and Chris Collingwood to throw in the towel. The brain trust behind
Fountains of Wayne had put out a ridiculously fun and highly replayable
self-titled debut in 1996, to great acclaim but less than inspiring sales.
1999 witnessed the arrival of Utopia Parkway, which tightened the
New York-based quartet's sound (the other two accomplished members being
guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young). Alas, Utopia Parkway
did little to convince the world that Fountains of Wayne were supreme
purveyors of intelligent power pop -- while, inexplicably, the two guys in
the Rembrandts made out like bandits for that Towering Edifice of Pop
Perfection masquerading as the Friends theme. Had Justice packed up
and left town, leaving no forwarding address? Had some nefarious agent of
darkness drained all goodness from the world? How could such obvious
talent be ignored?
Fortunately, the duo has soldiered on, and as proof of their continuing
commitment to the art of clever, infectiously hummable, hook-laden
popcraft, Schlesinger and Collingwood have returned with not only their
crowning achievement to date but also one of the year's finest albums,
period. Welcome Interstate Managers continues the exploration of
Tri-State characters first explored on Utopia, but widens the
geographic and psychic net considerably to include the entire New England
region, imagining everything from a drunk salesman who just can't "get
shit together" ("Bright Future in Sales") to a young quarterback who has a profound moment of Zen in the middle
of a play ("All Kinds of Time").
What sets Managers apart from, and ultimately elevates it far
above, the rest of the band's catalogue (and the work of just about any
other band, save for the Flaming Lips, currently working in pop), are the
shades of depth and surprising moments of poignancy that seep through. The
acoustic-based "Hackensack" sketches a portrait of a grown man reflecting
on a boyhood crush who left the titular city for success in Hollywood.
When the narrator mentions seeing her on his television, "talking to
Christopher Walken," there's a real sense of despair, a cold realization
that her success scales proportionate to his personal failures. The hard
rocking "No Better Place" complements "Hackensack" nicely, following the
bitterness felt by a man as his lover leaves New York for elsewhere, and
how he attempts to present the city, rather than any redeeming qualities
of his own, as a reason for her to stay.
The idea of restless travel, even if it's just down the street,
permeates Managers, a sense of dissatisfied yearning for something
better, be it a change of venue, lover or job. The cheeky "Halley's
Waitress" plays on the famous comet, exploring a particular brand of
sudden, creeping loneliness that sneaks up on a person -- even when he's
just waiting for a fresh cup of coffee. The bittersweet "Fire Island"
celebrates the sense of liberation felt by teenagers when their parents
are away, but cleverly intimates how too much freedom can be just as
constricting as having an authority figure hovering over your shoulder.
Musically, Welcome Interstate Managers is the band's most
accomplished and stylistically varied album yet. "Hung Up on You" is a
classic hangdog, hung over country ditty, aided in no small part by guest
Randolph's masterful pedal-steel. "Stacy's Mom" is vintage power pop,
with an opening dirty guitar crunch that would make the Cars proud.
"Supercollider" pays respect to swirling '60s psychedelia, and manages to
sound fresh despite that genre's obvious age lines. Indeed, the group's
real success stems from an uncanny knack for making obvious and familiar
beats and chord progressions sound wholly new and engaging. Such
unoriginal originality should, by all rights, hobble the album. Instead,
it makes it.
Save, that is, for "Peace and Love," a grating, sing-song-y dud whose
lyrics trot out hippie clichés about peace, love and retreating to the
wilds of Vermont that neither debunk nor shed any kind of light on the
"turn on, tune in, drop out" mindset. It's the one track standing in the
album's path to the hallowed halls of ultimate pop-rock Nirvana. But one
lone misstep does little to undermine an otherwise fantastic effort. The
seeds Fountains of Wayne laid on Utopia Parkway bear generous
returns here. Welcome Interstate Managers is a masterpiece of
middle class despair, garbed in a tried-and-true blinding white pop-art
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