Saturday, 6 August 2011

Fountains Of Wayne - Sky Full Of Holes (Album Review 2011)

New York quartet Fountains Of Wayne continue to tread a fine line between penning the perfect pop tune and taking an ironic sideways look at life. In a similar way to their Texan compatriots Bowling For Soup, observation and humour is an intrinsic part of their music, and as many bands have proved this can be a frayed tightrope in a hurricane. But thankfully Fountains Of Wayne find the right balance of fun, real-life melancholy and melodrama. Fifth studio album Sky Full of Holes is no exception.

Sky Full Of Holes is packed with brilliant songs. Chris Collingwood is an ever-present vocal genius but the song-writing pairing of Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger is now as strong as ever. Action Hero is the core song that pulls together all elements beautifully, recalling the tale of a family man who dreams of heroic pursuit but is always dragged back by the people around him and the trials and tribulations of real life. This is followed by the sun-kissed pop of A Dip In The Ocean, another cracking pop tune. Vibrant guitars and Collingwood’s ferocious vocals move the song forward at pace.

A wonderful piece of ironic observation is the brilliant A Road Song, which pokes fun at the concept of ‘writing on tour’. Collingwood delivers one of the album’s best lines: “It’s a cliché, but hey… It doesn’t make it so wrong. And in between the stops at the Cracker Barrel and forty movies with Will Ferrell… I need something to occupy my time…”. This is simply gorgeous writing, instrumentation and arrangement. Radio Bar is an obvious ‘big hit’ packed with drums and brass telling the tale of a group of friends on a night out with a wonderful twist ending. This is also a great demonstration of how to use wordless vocals effectively.

Elsewhere the songs are effortlessly varied. The band recall the tale of two hopeless and hapless entrepreneurs Richie and Ruben and then add their own ‘National Express’ (The Divine Comedy) with Acela, a tribute to the Amtrack express train that runs through New York, in the style of Oasis. The whole thing works brilliantly. In complete contrast, the big ballad Hate To See You Like This is a sympathetic yet light-hearted take on depression and closer Cemetery Guns also shows the more serious side of the band. It is a sad lament and tribute of our times.

Fountains Of Wayne have always been able to crank out a pop song but it is the less commercial songs that best show the band’s talents. Their biggest hit, 2003’s Stacy’s Mom from Welcome Interstate Managers, is a perfect example of when it all comes together but there is more to the band than a couple of hit singles. Sky Full Of Holes may not have these (Radio Bar could be the obvious exception) but it is the most consistent and solid album since the brilliant Utopia Parkway in 1999 and considerably better than the charming yet forgettable Traffic And Weather four years ago. This is an excellent return.
-- CS
Dedicated to the memory of A.M.S. RIP.

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