CD Review of Traffic & Weather by Fountains of Wayne

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Traffic & Weather
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Virgin
Released: 2007
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This one goes out to all ya’ll Fountains of Wayne hatas out there.

You know what’s up. You know what I’m talking about. You’re all, like, rubbing your hands together with anticipation because you think you’re getting ready to have your chance to say either “they’re trying too hard to come up with another hit single” or “they’re clearly just coasting and can’t be bothered to come up with another hit single.” Either way, you’re very excited because you’re just positive that “Stacy’s Mom” was a fluke and you can’t wait to be right about it.

Well, as far as the flukiness of their hit single, maybe you’re right and maybe you’re wrong, but when it comes to Traffic & Weather, one thing’s for certain: this is almost certainly the same album Fountains of Wayne would’ve made whether they’d experienced chart success with “Stacy’s Mom” or not. The tunes are just as memorable as they ever were, the lyrics are just as clever, and the stylistic variety between the songs is sufficient that they almost never blend into each other. And while it’s impossible to say if listeners will latch onto the album’s first single, “Someone to Love,” the same way they did “Stacy,” the album sure as hell isn’t lacking for follow-ups to pitch to radio as alternatives.

Musically, Traffic & Weather is once again all over the map, though it maintains a certain degree of thematic focus; no, it’s not a concept album, per se, but there’s definitely a lot of talk about transportation, be it tangential (“Yolanda Hayes” is about a woman who works at the DMV), direct (“’92 Subaru,” “Seatbacks and Tray Tables”), or maybe just about people basking in the post-transport glow (“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim”). Songwriter Adam Schlesinger has a certain concern about the band being pegged as “geek rock,” but it wouldn’t be such an inaccurate accusation. (Sorry, guy.) There are plenty of pop culture references scattered through the grooves of this record, from a reference to someone watching “The King of Queens” to a blatant but loving cop from the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.”

As ever, most every song is ridiculously catchy; even the thudding riff that is the album’s title cut – think an unholy cross between Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” and Motley Crue’s “Looks That Kill” – plods its way into your subconscious. “Fire in the Canyon” is a jangly number that comes within spitting distance of alt-country, “Strapped For Cash” is three and a half minutes of pop perfection; that Billy Joel lyrical homage occurs toward the end of the tale of a guy who’s deep in debt and on the run from his “creditors,” but, musically, there are bits that are reminiscent of everything from ELO (dig the synths and vocal modulation) to Bob James’ theme for “Taxi.” The album even closes with a waltz (the aforementioned “Seats and Tray Tables”). And while it’s fair to say that the band themselves would never claim to be in possession of another “Stacy’s Mom,” if there’s one here, it’s not “Someone To Love” but, rather, “Hotel Majestic,”which is filled with lots of piano and handclaps and, possibly not coincidentally, is also right at the 3:30 mark. Make a note, readers: Schlesinger, Collingwood, and company know exactly how long it takes to reach pop perfection, and they rarely allow their songs to overstay their welcome. Mind you, there’s at least one exception to this, and that’s “Planet of Weed,” which is less than three minutes long but never rises above feeling like a cheap way of getting the stoners in the audience to cheer.

Traffic and Weather may or may not prove to be the soundtrack to America’s summer, but the band’s existing fans will be giddy that their heroes have hit another one out of the park. If you’re an unabashed power pop fan, it’s certainly the perfect thing to, um, pop into your car stereo; in fact, your greatest issue with the album may prove to be a profound lack of desire to remove it from the player.

~Will Harris