What ever happened to straight-ahead pop music for its own sake? No big message, no self-indulgence -- just a nice melody and catchy lyrics, all coming in at about 3:30 per song. It may be a lost art these days, but Fountains of Wayne is trying to reestablish the species. On its latest CD, only its third since 1996, FoW offers up 16 sweet, sugary morsels in Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve).
Sounding like everything from Cheap Trick to the Beach Boys, Fountains of Wayne's trademark is its often-hilarious lyrics. Sometimes it's just the words, as in the slacker song, "Bright Future in Sales," where the hung-over protagonist sings, "I'm gonna get my shit together/Cause I can't live like this forever... I got a new computer/And a bright future in sales." Other times it's in the lag between subject and style. In "Fire Island," the kids destroy the house while Mom and Dad are away, but the music is like something Styx would have done in its "Babe" phase. Another song, "All Kinds of Time," is about a key play in a football game -- and it's sung in a falsetto.
The songwriters, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, are pros. (Schlesinger was Oscar-nominated for penning "That Thing You Do!" for the Tom Hanks film.) The songs are varied, and under their simple veneers, they are actually quite elaborate. There's a country song ("Hung Up on You") and even a hippie anthem ("Peace and Love").
Still, these guys might find themselves pigeon-holed as a novelty act -- the big hit here is "Stacy's Mom," a valentine to misguided crushes on moms everywhere (the video features Rachel Hunter as Stacy's mom). It's got a chorus you can't help but sing along to, but it's probably best remembered for its laughs: "Stacy, do you remember when I mowed your lawn?/Your mom came out with just a towel on/I could tell she liked me from the way she stared/And the way she said 'You missed a spot over there.' "
Even though these guys, who named their band after a garden ornament store in Wayne, N.J., don't take themselves too seriously, we should. Pop music may seem simple, but doing it as well as Fountains of Wayne is anything but.