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Friday, June 23, 2017

Mountains of pain

April 6, 2007

Traffic and Weather, the newest album from Fountains of Wayne, is terrible. For one reason or another, Fountains of Wayne has become a darling of the media, with everyone from Rolling Stone to CNN praising Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood as excellent songwriters. Everyone is wrong.

Musically, it is a fine pop album. Nearly every song starts out with a somewhat promising musical introduction and then the worst happens: the lyrics begin. If you are an able-minded, adult individual, there is no excuse for writing and subsequently singing, "Michael and Heather at the lost and found/ Looking for luggage that's soft and brown/ Sir, I'm so sorry it's just not around/ Michael and Heather are glad to be on the ground."

Including named characters in songs is always risky business. Folk music relies on it, but in pop it takes a good songwriter for it to not sound incredibly campy. Ben Folds can make a listener care deeply about Eddie Walker, Fred Jones or Alice Childress, but Schlesinger offers no reason why anyone would care if Beth McKenzie watches "The King of Queens" while she waits for "Someone to Love." This trend continues as character after character is introduced by name and never given enough development for their name to matter.

It is not so much that the writing is awful — and it is — but that it is impossible to imagine who the target audience is for this record. The music is light and danceable, but the lyrics are so often childish that it seems children would, in fact, be the proper audience.

That is until one hears "Planet of Weed." This incredibly irresponsible kiddy tune flouts marijuana use as a perfect panacea to any of life's troubles.

To its credit, Fountains of Wayne incorporates many different sounds into its straight pop music. The horn sections scattered throughout the album add great depth to the music and allow the other instruments to shine. The train drums on the country tune "Fire in the Canyon" actually capture the spirit of the lyrics as the protagonist travels from place to place exploring his surroundings. Oddly, it might be when the band goes furthest from its poppy base that it fairs best.

It is simply not reasonable for this album to receive a positive review. Although this act should be offensive, my greatest fear is that my berating of this album will offend more people than the music itself.

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