Drowned in Sound: Fountains of Wayne - Traffic and Weather

Drowned in Sound
Fountains of Wayne - Traffic and Weather
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92

Though it can be a dubious distinction, a one-hit wonder always goes down in music history. Fountains of Wayne seem like the most likely candidate for such status at the moment, thanks to their hilarious mega-hit "Stacy's Mom" catapulting them out of obscurity. Their latest full-length, Traffic and Weather, doesn't contain anything so inherently massive but still has its moments.
Of course, it can be hard finding such moments while cringing. That's because, for most of its running time, Traffic and Weather sounds painfully sweet. While few albums can single-handedly occupy a car player during long trips, this one could become maddening very quickly. The band's lyrics don't help in the least, often teetering between celebrating awkwardness and merely sounding awkward. By the time you add in their stilted three-part harmonies, most bands would be dead in the water.
But Fountains of Wayne wouldn't have made it to their fourth album without the ability to compensate for their flaws. To that end, they excel at being fun. Even when their songs come off as formulaic, as with the opener and first single "Someone to Love," it's hard not to absentmindedly nod to the music. Bassist Adam Schlesinger wrote the That Thing You Do! theme, which might hint at why his band can make catchiness sound effortless. One listen is all it takes to make a memory.
The trick is to do this while still having great songs, which the band can't always pull off. Only two truly great ones are hiding on Traffic and Weather, "Strapped for Cash" and the title track. "Strapped" wins out with an uncharacteristic sense of the untamed in Chris Collingwood's vocals, as he swaps his usual self-consciousness for tales of lost horse races and free booze. The title song works thanks to a danceable hook and a priceless chorus; both benefit from obvious 80s influences that improve upon the source material. "'92 Subaru," a comical snippet of classic rock complete with cowbell and a ripping guitar solo, is also close to greatness.
Unfortunately, most of the rest never comes close to matching those tunes. "Yolanda Hayes" and the haunting "I-95" are both provocative but not addictive; the other songs suffer from clichăs and needlessly extend the album's length. It baffles me as to why this album needs 14 tracks, especially when the last four are the most obnoxious of all. Not even a guest appearance by James Iha on the closer "Seatbacks and Traytables" can save the day.
Were it not for the pacing problems and painful niceness, Fountains of Wayne would have crafted an impressive follow-up to Welcome Interstate Managers. What we get instead is weak overall and likely won't land the band a second hit anytime soon. It is definitely fun, but to recommend an album based on three good songs and two middling ones would be a travesty. If they get another chance, they have to try harder.
Rating: 2 out of 5