TROUBLED TIMES

Back in the early days of Vinyl Connection, I wrote about one of the styles of music that has given me enormous pleasure over the years: Power Pop. Jangly guitars, catchy choruses, some salt in the chocolate.

The piece still reads OK, and the playlist is a good test of whether you are likely to become a fan. Check it out here, and if you listen to the songs, tell me what you think.

The reason for this nostalgia is a sad one. Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of Fountains of Wayne with Chris Collingwood, just died from COVID-19 at the age of 52. Hard to find words for this, or a thousand other heartbreaks.

Nostalgia. Looking backwards as a defence against the present. Sounds like a fucking good idea to me.

I vividly remember buying the CD single of “Leave the biker”, on spec, from JB Hi-Fi in Burke Road, way back in 1997 when Max Crawdaddy worked there. Way back when people in JB actually liked music and knew shit about it.

The smart, funny lyric blew me away. “He’s got his arm around every man’s dream, crumbs in his beard from the seafood special”. I was in love and grabbed another CD single and the debut album at the first opportunity.*

I’m listening to the LP version now on headphones because it’s late and everyone is in bed. Singing along, trying to keep it inside my head but sometimes failing. “She’s on her way, she’s taking a sick day sooooon…” Smiling and feeling a bit teary too, but that’s probably because it’s been a tough week (who hasn’t had one of those?) ‘cos you don’t brim over a pop song, do you? Not even when you’re emotionally wrecked and your eyes ache from staring at stuttering images all day.

Pop smarts and great hooks infest Fountains of Wayne’s first album. Harmonies (“You curse at girls”), riffs (“Radiation vibe”) and choruses to die for (“Please don’t rock me tonight”). The dark heart of power pop (remember “Day tripper”?) is front and centre in songs like “She’s got a problem”. The album closes with the gorgeous, swooning “Everything’s ruined”.

Over half the songs clock in under three minutes (remember the 3 minute single?); concise, punchy, economical. The guitar thrash never overpowering the melodies. This is such a vibrant and assured debut, it is a no-brainer inclusion for 101 More Albums You Need To Hear Before Your Turntable Dies.

But Schlesinger and Collingwood didn’t stop there. Their second album was Utopia Parkway (1999) which showed that the first release was no flash-in-the-pan. It’s also an amazingly consistent album crammed with story songs about people stumbling through life (“A fine day for a parade”) and relationships (“Troubled times”). There’s humour too (“Red dragon tatoo”) and a few sly pot-shots at the music industry (“Laser Show”).

The next album, “Welcome Interstate Managers” (2003) yielded Fountains of Wayne’s biggest hit, “Stacey’s Mom”. It’s a strong collection of songs, though perhaps a slight element of repetition is creeping in. A little more sneering than softness, as if they are further away from the battlers and nerds and lonely souls they write about. Still, “Bright future in sales” is a classic and “All kinds of time” one of the best songs about sport I’ve heard.

There were two more albums before they folded, probably more appealing to existing fans than new arrivals.

Reckon that might do me for tonight, except to spin the glorious “Troubled times” as an epilogue. It’s a song anticipating (and hoping for) a nostalgic glow and which—though ostensibly about a relationship**—seems pretty fitting in these dark days.

Maybe one day soon it will all come out
How you dream about each other sometimes
With the memory of how you once gave up
But you made it through the troubled times

Thank you Adam Schlesinger. You have left us some really great music, much of it energetic and upbeat. Yet whenever I listen to a Fountains of Wayne album from now on, an element of sadness will be there too. That’s part of the best power pop, you know.

* Because FoW are one of those bands that give you excellent b-sides on their singles. A few months before the rarities and b-sides collection Out-of-State Plates came out, I compiled my own CD covering much of the same ground. Remember compiling CDs?

** I tacked the lyric to the fridge door during a difficult early phase in the relationship of Ms Connection and your correspondent.

 

31 comments

  1. Lovely, Bruce. Schlesinger also wrote a (non-power) pop confection, the theme to Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, “That Thing You Do”. What’s unsettling to contemplate is that he’s not the first talented artist to die in the pandemic, and won’t be the last.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks JDB.
      I was certainly tempted to keep going with Schlesinger’s career, including both the wonderful That Thing You Do soundtrack and his ‘other’ bands. One of those was Tinted Windows, an unlikely but satisfying collaboration between Schlesinger, ex-boy band vet Taylor Hanson, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick and James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bruce, this is a stunningly written tribute to a songwriting legend. I love the entire FoW discography, with the debut remaining my favorite. As JDB mentioned above, he wrote the title track to “That Thing You Do.” Somehow a song created for a movie soundtrack is as good as any pop song ever written. I hope you don’t mind if I share the link to this post when the FoW debut is featured in my current series (which was due in about a month but I will likely bump that up in tribute to Mr. Schlesinger).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Rich. That’s lovely. You’ll enjoy the photo I added to my reply to JDB.
      Do you know the Tinted Windows album, Rich? Maybe you covered it “One and Done”?
      Of to read your post now, while listening to Traffic and Weather.

      Like

  3. A first-class review and tribute
    It’s not nostalgic for me, because FOW started up about the time I was born, so just kind of aware of them as part of the MTV pop scene. I hadn’t realized “That Thing You Do” from the Tom Hanks movie, was his, a perfect ’60’s style tune. I’ve been listening this morning, and kept hearing bits of other pop songs – – the opening chords of “Summer Place” immediately reminded me of “Sister Golden Hair”? (I’m sure that already occurred to many people) and then thought of The Cars – – reading the band’s Wikipedia history, it says “Stacy’s Mom” was a tribute to them. I love the mix of jangly pop tunes with concise little histories, really, a NY Ray Davies, a very clever short story writer.
    I cannot imagine a songwriter who wouldn’t appreciate a terrific tribute like your’s, Bruce.
    Can I hire you to ghostwrite my obituary, and arrange for the soundtrack?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d be honoured Robert. 🙂 Though I hope I might have to delegate it to my son due to exceptional longevity on your part.

      Really like your comment about “a NY Ray Davies”. I hadn’t thought of that, but it really does fit. Economical story-telling with a late 20th C urban American edge. Nice one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love those CD single covers – I’ve never seen them before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One way to know you are hooked on a band is collecting the singles too! In this genre, I imagine you might have some Mutton Birds singles? Or The Bats?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a CD single! I am very singularly focused on albums most of the time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, me too. So it kind of stands out when I seek out singles too. It all started with Crowded House and their fab b-sides…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. The only Crowded House b-sides I know are the ones on Afterglow. One Finn b-side I really like is Semi-Detached from the Frenzy era. It’s kind of prog rock adjacent – Neil Finn does a big guitar hero solo.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes! Gosh I love early Enz.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. If I was being pedantic (which is very uncharacteristic….) I’d point out that it’s more like mid-period Enz pretending to be early Enz.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. (Holds up hands in surrender pose)!

              Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Please visit Bruce Jenkins’ Vinyl Connection blog for a stunningly written tribute to Mr. Schlesinger: https://vinylconnection.com.au/2020/04/02/troubled-times/ […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. New to me. Two things. First is I’m going to check the music out. Second is that guy on the bike has started my craving for a cigar. I will take care of that this weekend. Thanks Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw I so enjoy the smiles some of your comments bring, CB.
      But if you attribute your smoking habit to me, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers. 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I take full responsibility for my taste for the tobacco. No need to get lawyers involved.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. FOW missed me for some reason, so I started Googling and YouTubing as soon as I read about Adam’s passing. I watched the obligatory “Stacy’s Mom” video (and I still didn’t know them!), and then listened to a few more cuts. This is a fine tribute, Bruce, and certainly the best I’ve read about the band. Many thanks for the continuing education. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Marty. It was late at night, wine may have been consumed, but it certainly came from the heart. Kind Regards, Bruce.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bron Adams · · Reply

    So love your tribute and passion for music. It inspires me to take a moment and listen to something that makes me feel good.
    Keep the post coming ❣️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’m certainly aiming to keep VC chugging along. 🤞

      Like

  9. Wonderful tribute, Bruce. And that description of the best kind of power pop is spot on too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Geoff. As I recall, in the original Power Pop post (Hello Professor Alliteration!) I think Canadian band Odds got a song.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Professor Alliteration & I go way back!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Ah, getting forgetful Geoff. I mentioned Odds, which you promptly picked up on in one of your many thoughtful comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. my thanks, Bruce – I had ‘nest’ on last week. That opening pair of someone who’s cool / make you mad has to be one of my favourite album opening double whammies!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No argument. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  10. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Lovely ode. You can pen one for my demise any day. And I trust you on the turntable, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. A new career in obituaries. Timely or what?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Yeah: the story of a life, its own curve. Most times pretty flat. Belch.

        Liked by 1 person

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