Editors' pick

Fountains of Wayne

Rock
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Editorial Review

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
Album review: "Sky Full of Holes"

It's tempting to roll down your car windows while singing along to the irresistible melodies and clever wordplay in Fountains of Wayne's "Sky Full of Holes." If you do, though, you might miss the album's strong suit: great stories. You'll want to listen to what happens to the characters in these songs.

Songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger approach the process separately: Collingwood likes more opaque ideas, while Schlesinger likes a good story, though their styles overlap. Both appreciate the melody in the sounds of the words themselves. But their strength is in how they appreciate the beauty of the lives of everyday characters.

Take the song "Acela" and its title. The word lends itself to song with its elongated vowels - "Amtrak" wouldn't work as well - but the story, about a lonely man on the train searching for an elusive woman, works because Collingwood and Schlesinger know that in good storytelling, specific is terrific. So when they sing concrete names such as Acela, or People magazine, we are there. The scene they paint puts us on that train. The same goes for such songs as "A Road Song" and its talk of Cracker Barrel and Will Ferrell, and "Dip in the Ocean," with its citronella flames and heel-worn planks. In Fountains of Wayne, words matter, and they are proof that storytelling is still a valued songwriting skill.

--Benjamin Opipari, Aug. 5, 2011

A singer can have perfect pitch. So can a band have perfect pop? If so, Fountains of Wayne would undoubtedly be that band. The veteran quartet's acoustic show at a sold-out Birchmere last night may have been short on guitar fuzz and crackling drums, but that only served to better showcase what the band does better than almost anyone: hooks, harmonies and a craftsmanship that's almost scientific in its precision.

When someone stumbles upon the quadratic formula equivalent of pop songwriting, it could well be after listening to Fountains songs such as "Red Dragon Tattoo," "Radiation Vibe" and "Hey Julie."

Every bass fill, double-time drum beat, clever turn of phrase and backing vocal came in at just the right time, hitting that perfect pop sweet spot. To not tap along on your knee or nod your head would be to defy the laws of nature.

Why the band has only had two hits over its decade and a half career ("Radiation Vibe" and "Stacy's Mom," which was given a jokey lounge makeover Thursday) is a minor mystery, but to exist as a power pop band is to resign oneself to a life of critical acclaim and cult-favorite status.

And the fans at the Birchmere were certainly diehards. At the false ending in "Someone to Love" only a handful of people started clapping; everyone knew there was more to come. And the cult starts young. One early grade-school aged kid was invited onstage for percussion assistance on "Hey Julie." Wearing an oversize Fountains of Wayne T-shirt, he mouthed every word during the chorus.

It was cute. Perfectly cute.

--David Malitz, Feb. 20, 2009