Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc)

If Mike Nichols were making The Graduate in 2011, he might well ask Fountains of Wayne to provide music. Listen to “The Summer Place” with its Updikean compendium of the discontents of the highest tax bracket, the opening track on the band’s fifth album Sky Full of Holes. “The Summer Place” features a protagonist who waxes nostalgic for her days as a teenage shoplifter while downing large quantities of ‘shrooms to stave off the tedium of life at forty. Briskly paced, “Summer” even suggest Nichol’s original Greek chorus Simon and Garfunkel with its “Hazy Shade of Winter” syncopated urgency.

For fifteen years, over the course of five albums, Fountains of Wayne have delivered well-crafted pop-rock gems with clever, literate lyrics that don’t necessarily shortchange deeper emotions or social commentary. Their second album Utopia Parkway remains a personal favorite. If I’ve played “Troubled Times” or “Amity Gardens” once I’ve played them five hundred times. Welcome Interstate Managers was a worthy successor, yielding their one truly big hit song, “Stacey’s Mom.” Their last record, 2007’s Traffic and Weather, was a comparatively lackluster affair, but Sky Full of Holes finds them in peak pop form while aging gracefully with their protagonists as well as their audience.

Consequently, nothing on Sky Full of Holes has the adolescent nerd preoccupations of Utopia Parkway’s “Red Dragon Tattoo.” The dilemmas of Sky’s characters are more consequential than tattoo selection. In “Action Hero” Chris Collingwood spares the sarcasm button for an empathetic look at a family man living a Walter Mitty existence. But what at first sounds like a simple escapist fantasy is finally the tale of a father confronting real health issues, strapped to an EKG monitor at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Collingwood’s reedy alto, as always, betrays little in terms of obvious emotional range. But by letting his and Adam Schlesinger’s sharply observed lyrics speak for themselves, Collingwood’s discretion speaks volumes.