We gave it a B+
Question: Which of these subjects receives a mention on Fountains of Wayne’s fourth studio album? Costco, Carl Reiner, Coldplay, or a ’92 Subaru? Answer: All are featured in the course of Traffic and Weather, which finds the quartet name-checking products and celebrities with almost hip-hop-style enthusiasm.
True, songwriters Adam Schlesinger (who penned much of the soundtrack to the recent Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore rom-com Music and Lyrics) and Chris Collingwood have always peppered the band’s classic-pop-inspired guitar rock with cultural minutiae. They relentlessly scrutinize their characters’ foibles, travel habits, and occupations (the New Jersey pair are notably obsessed with the white-collar workplace, a legacy of their own pre-fame jobs as office temps). The first song on the Fountains’ self-titled 1996 debut included a nod to Playboy, while Christopher Walken, Pink Floyd, and Radio Shack all appeared on their last CD, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers. But here the references come so fast there are times you wonder if the duo have become less interested in real emotion than in making smart-alecky references to the DMV and ”a worn-out Dell” (which they do on ”Yolanda Hayes” and ”Hotel Majestic,” respectively). Fortunately, on most of this album, the perfectly chosen details actually add emotional depth to the lyrical vignettes, bringing them to vivid life — ironic, given their often mundane nature. There is something truly melancholic, for example, in the fact that the heroine of ”Someone to Love” is not just at home watching TV when she should be ”out on the scene” but is watching The King of Queens. This set dressing makes the scenario so recognizable. Similarly, the nine-hour drive separating loved ones in acoustic lament ”I-95” becomes all the more depressing when the narrator describes being stuck at a truck stop selling ”posters of girls washing cars/And unicorns and stars.”
It is difficult to say whether anything on Traffic and Weather will match the success of the Fountains’ most famous song, ”Stacy’s Mom,” given the boost that track received from its lubricious Rachel Hunter-starring video. But ”Someone to Love,” ”’92 Subaru,” and the Beach Boys-evoking ”This Better Be Good” all boast mighty, instantly hummable hooks. Meanwhile, ”Strapped for Cash” features a terrifically swaggering performance from frontman Collingwood as a money-owing ne’er-do-well.
The end product is, on the whole, a simply wonderful CD of songs about love, lust, and loneliness.
Oh, yes, and antilock brakes.