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on 20 September 2003
Although they might often sound like the worst excesses of Britpop combined with Grandaddy, Fountains of Wayne are truly kings of the three minute pop song. I dare you to listen to "Bright Future In Sales" and not break out into a smile. In their latest installment they seem to be tentatively sounding more emotional depth, and the results are, on the whole, pretty good. "Hackensack" is a brilliantly pathetic tale of a small-town loser hung up on the girl who hit the big time, and in "Hey Julie" they allow humanity to shine through a saddened corporate pawn.
However, the album taken as a whole is patchy. For every seamless slice of summery power pop ("Stacy's Mom"), there's an averagey midtempo effort ("No Better Place"). The lyrics are always a joy ("I just want some coffee/Is that so much to ask?/Halley's waitress/Is not up to the task" Collingwood sings bitterly) but even that can't save mid-tempo country slush like "Hung Up On You". And, inexplicably, someone's recorded over some Oasis B-sides on track 14 and 15. Early Oasis, exuberant Oasis, but, nonetheless, Oasis.
FoW are resolutely aiming to sound like the thoughts of American Everyguy, Averageville. This works to an obvious advantage, but it has a down side, too. Good songs like "All Kinds Of Time" are rendered well nigh incomprehensible to people living outside the US. Do even Canadians know what he means when he sings "Sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee"? So, in trying to sound like the small town little guy, they've succeeded in alienating a vast audience, which is a crying shame.
Fountains of Wayne are creeping towards that album which is going to touch all the bases that make them great, and one that ditches all the stuff that's holding them back. This isn't it, but it gives the impression that they're getting closer.