For a pre-teen dwelling in suburban Philadelphia in 2003, Fountains of Wayne was, momentarily, a Large Deal. In fact, after I say Fountains of Wayne, what I actually imply is “Stacy’s Mother,” which was in all places. Fountains of Wayne themselves have been a thriller to me, merely showing out of the clear blue sky with one of many goofiest hits I’d ever heard. In fact, that wasn’t what actually occurred—I knew nothing of their two earlier albums, together with the superb Utopia Parkway, or of their late bassist and songwriter Adam Schlesinger’s Oscar-nominated contribution to Tom Hanks’ 1997 movie That Factor You Do!, to not point out their dozens of equally catchy songs littered all through their catalogue.
For this blind spot, I provide a easy protection; Fountains of Wayne aren’t cool. Catchy, enjoyable, a bit of bizarre, decidedly distinctive, positive, however undoubtedly not cool. Which may not matter as a lot now, however you’ll be able to guess it mattered then, particularly to a pre-teen, rec-center dancing, hair-spiking, hopeless grasper in any respect issues cool. I wished edge, I wished noise, I wished, properly…I’m not totally positive what I wished, however Fountains of Wanye’s kitschy pop wasn’t it. Now, as a jaded skeptic, I not solely lengthy for the sentimentality and pure serotonin burst that Fountains of Wayne gives, however see it for the malicious program that it typically is. Welcome Interstate Managers, which is getting a recent vinyl reissue due to Actual Gone Music, is sticky and candy energy pop at its most impeccably crafted, however beneath the confection is a report that, moderately than embrace too-cool detachment, explores the wayward ennui which typified the decidedly uncool, but endlessly endearing pockets of the early 2000s.
I didn’t know this on the time, however after I first heard Fountains of Wayne I used to be just a few years from being a personality in a Fountains of Wayne track. There have been a variety of bands who’ve tried, however few have really captured the listless drifting, hopeful craving, and teenage romanticism of excessively boring, culturally homogenized suburban life. Which, as I look again, is maybe why Fountains of Wayne appeared to resonate higher with middle-aged critics than most of my friends. The characters that songwriters Schlesinger and Chris Collingswood write aren’t cool identical to I wasn’t cool, the distinction being I believed I was cool—or, a minimum of, I desperately wanted to be.
For me, it was bands like Pavement and Arcade Hearth, themselves rooted in suburbia, that have been hanging a extra important chord, not as a result of I noticed myself of their noodly, countless properly of sarcasm or bombastic, bottomless depth, however as a result of I wished—hell, wanted—them to type my pathetic slab of teenage clay into the hip younger grownup I longed to turn out to be. Each teenager needs to be Slanted and Enchanted however the reality is, most of us have been nearer to the characters who pop up time and again all through Fountains of Wayne’s catalogue, from the unrequited lovers, tattoo getters, and laser-show goers of 1999’s Utopia Parkway to the household gathered across the widescreen TV in Welcome Interstate Managers’s “All Sorts of Time.”
Welcome Interstate Managers is sticky and candy energy pop at its most impeccably crafted, however beneath the confection is a report that, moderately than embrace too-cool detachment, explores the wayward ennui which typified the decidedly uncool, but endlessly endearing pockets of the early 2000s.
On this regard, Fountains of Wayne caught out not solely in my very own warped adolescent thoughts however within the music panorama writ massive circa 2003. Categorizing their model of energy pop is a slippery activity. Welcome Interstate Managers arrived amidst what now will be referred to on the Meet Me within the Rest room period, when the vital eye was forged towards extra towards slick, big-city rock from the likes of The Strokes and The White Stripes, whose model of emotionally reserved post-punk was nothing just like the candy, tight pop songs coming from Fountains of Wayne. That being mentioned, they could have much less to do with the rising indie rock of the time, which was break up between the delicate, Smith’s-inspired period of wistful and poetic restraint on one aspect and avant-garde experimentalism on the opposite. Fountains of Wayne have been by no means fairly attractive or bizarre sufficient to be a band through which anybody would attribute any grand, sweeping statements of “Subsequent Large Factor,” however they could have performed their factor higher than anybody else.
The Welcome Interstate Managers reissue boasts 17 songs throughout its hour-long runtime, making for an absolute smorgasbord of tightly wound pop choruses, every extra Gorilla-Glue sticky than the subsequent. Nobody may make the road “And should you ever get again to Hackensack, I’ll be right here for you” feels like a goddamn Beatles for Sale B-side save a songwriter who was already tasked with writing a track for a film in regards to the energy of an indelible ’60s pop hit. What’s extra spectacular is their capacity to bounce from this sort of lovelorn balladry to their extra riffy rock songs like the marginally foolish, but undeniably propulsive ode to cordless telephones on “Little Crimson Mild.” Hell, even the much-maligned and admittedly goofy country-western ditty “Hung Up on You” is much better than it has any proper to be. Fountains of Wayne could have lacked the delicate aloofness and groundbreaking “innovation” of the bands of their generations however the reality is, they make up for it with the sheer undeniability of their bops.
Maybe it’s exactly as a result of the songs are so damned good that you just virtually miss what’s actually happening beneath Welcome Interstate Managers’ polished sheen. Whereas the report undoubtedly borrows the themes of young-adult sorrow, confusion, and pleasure from Utopia Parkway—which was itself a extra targeted, quasi-concept album—it does so with a way more cynical eye, typically specializing in the losses moderately than the wins and, extra importantly, displaying the exhaustion at being concerned within the recreation in any respect. The opening strains of what is likely to be the report’s finest track, “Mexican Wine,” are an absurdist, rhyme-littered vignette ending on the closest factor Fountains of Wayne ever got here to straight anti-capitalist vitriol: “He was killed by a cellphone explosion, they scattered his ashes throughout the ocean / The water was used to make child lotion, the wheels or promotion have been set into movement.” Issues by no means get all that indignant, in fact, however solely as a result of the trusty distraction of the track’s titular elixir is at all times shut at hand, as if the refrain is the required escape from self-seriousness for not solely the protagonist, however the band and listener as properly.
This theme of escape, or lack thereof, comes up time and again all through Welcome Interstate Managers. In “Hey Julie,” a whimsical, virtually childlike jingle, we see a person inserting all his hopes within the woman he loves, making her the carrot on the finish of a day of numerous sticks within the type of his “imply little man” of a boss, countless info and figures, and scores of pointless telephone calls. “Vibrant Future in Gross sales” as soon as once more makes use of alcohol, however this time the protagonist’s penchant for a number of—seven on the workplace social gathering alone—scotch and sodas is obtainable because the jail that wants escaping as a result of, as he places it, “I bought a brand new laptop and a vibrant future in gross sales.” Once more, it is a power-pop track, with driving chords, peppy drums, and even a fairly sick guitar solo, all a couple of man with what seems to be a fairly critical ingesting downside. These aren’t the starry-eyed, younger heroes of songs like “Promenade Theme” and “Crimson Dragon Tattoo,” however a slew of characters whose expertise has dulled their enthusiasm or, in some instances, sharpened it right into a spear.
Whereas the report undoubtedly borrows the themes of young-adult sorrow, confusion, and pleasure from Utopia Parkway, it does so with a way more cynical eye, typically specializing in the losses moderately than the wins and, extra importantly, displaying the exhaustion at being concerned within the recreation in any respect.
For Schlesinger and Collingwood, this sort of weathered cynicism didn’t take quite a lot of creativeness. In any case, Collingwood was himself working as a pc programmer at American Categorical—presumably for a boss with a soup-stained tie and spray-on tan—previous to the band’s years with Atlantic Information. It was solely after the band was unceremoniously dropped by the label following the commercially disappointing Utopia Parkway that this mundane actuality may need appeared just like the extra practical future for Collingwood and firm. “He simply type of felt that we labored for a extremely very long time and it didn’t actually add as much as something,” Schlesinger told American Songwriter years later whereas discussing the difficulties the band had when getting down to write Welcome Interstate Managers. Because it seems, working actually arduous with nothing to indicate for it’s an awfully relatable phenomenon, and one which the band was capable of inject into their diverse forged of hopeless romantics and stifled dreamers.
It seems this vinyl reissue of Welcome Interstate Managers is, greater than something, an try at posterity. That is, in spite of everything, a 16-song report in its personal proper, so moderately than stuff it with B-sides, rarities, or outtakes, we solely actually get the “Stacy’s Mother” B-side, the punchy, garage-rock single “Elevator Up,” in the way in which of further supplies. Which is ok, particularly given the truth that that is the primary time the report’s been reissued since its unique run. The timing is, sadly, moderately applicable. I, for one, should admit my reevaluation of a band I hadn’t considered in additional than a decade solely occurred due to the dying of Adam Schlesinger again in April 2020. It’s unlucky when it takes one thing tragic to spark a renewed curiosity, however to see what number of musicians this little power-pop band was capable of contact was inspiring nonetheless. Maybe it’s a lesson: cool could come and go, however the energy of nice songs is simple. FL