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.