Tuesday, April 03, 2007

We're going to a laser show: a tribute to "Utopia Parkway"

Something's wrong with this picture:

One of the nicest days of the year today, the kind of day where all the motorcycles and convertibles come out and everyone remembers that they liked going out for ice cream... and it'll be 24 degrees Thursday night.

No fair! How am I supposed to drive around with the windows down blasting Fountains of Wayne (and Journey, of course) when it's sub-freezing?

I guess I'll have to find ways to pass the time...

In honor of today's release of the new Fountains of Wayne album "Traffic and Weather," I've decided to kick off a new recurring column: 47 life-changing albums that you must own, presented in no particular order whenever I feel like it. Those riders always get ya, don't they?

Anywho, let's kick things off right with #16:

Fountains of WayneUtopia Parkway

One of my missions in life has been to make Fountains of Wayne the bona-fied uber pop stars they deserve to be.

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Stacy's Mom," the best simultaneous tribute to The Cars and MILFs ever written, was pretty big a few years back. In fact, here's the video:

You're welcome. Favorite moment? The little eyebrow lift at 1:55 in time with the power chord hit. Brilliant.

But the greatness of Fountains of Wayne goes deeper. You probably know more of them than you think.

Remember that highly irresistible, so-catchy-it-only-leaves-your-head-upon-a-solid-bludgeoning pop nugget from That Thing You Do!? FoW's bassist Adam Schlessinger wrote that. This video also marks probably the first time an imaginary Columbus, Ohio radio station has been featured as a hitmaker in a music video (about a minute in).

Was Steve Zahn in that movie? Hmm, I may have to revise my wholly unjustified hatred of him.

On top of that movie gem, Schlessinger was also behind most of the music in this year's Music and Lyrics. If only the world knew that Hugh and Drew fell in love while writing a FoW song.

Now that I've established that you already know and love FoW, allow me to introduce you to their best album, Utopia Parkway.

This one is way up there in my "Most Played" playlist in iTunes. The title track starts, over stacatto piano and drums

Well I've been saving for a custom van
and I've been playing in a cover band
and my baby doesn't understand
why I never turned from boy to man

And builds from there in full power pop splendor with starry-eyed wonder at the joy of playing in a band. The day I start my own cover band, this song is going to be my freaking anthem.

The real strength of Fountains of Wayne is truly the eye for detail in the lyrics. Most songs are stories stuffed with odd specifics and exquisite details that help you relate to the protagonists. "Red Dragon Tattoo," for example, follows an idiot that gets an intricate piece of body art to impress an indifferent lady:

Will you stop pretending I've never been born
now that I look a little more like that guy from Korn?

Or "Hat and Feet," which puts bad news from your significant other in terms relatable to anyone who's seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon:

You dropped a bomb on me I didn't even see
Like a falling piano from out of a window
Now I'm just a hat and feet.
Flat on the sidewalk, stuck to the street.

Or the aptly titled "Laser Show"

We're gonna sit back. Relax. Watch the stars.
James and Jason, Kirk and Lars.
We're going to make our may across the galaxy.
Then we're going to head back home on the L.I.E.

Their songs aren't just about dating, although they could almost certainly coast on that theme for another 60 years and still write more interesting songs than Nickelback ever will. No, they sometimes put the crosshairs on suburban malaise, like in the vicious "Valley of the Malls" (which should win some kind of award for the title alone):

God forgive the passengers if we should fail
to find a penny fountain or a half-off sale
I need a merchant, I've just started searching for the holy grail
Fighting for the freedom from a common bond
To be a barracuda in a guppy pond
So little time for so many things to try on.
And we're leaving all the road for dead
We're getting tired of the twists and turns
You gotta go when human nature calls
We're driving through the valley of the malls.

By the time the album winds through the appropriately meta "Prom Theme" and the turned-to-11 bouncy "It Must Be Summer," the closing track "The Senator's Daughter" sends you off with a nice, longing lullaby, complete with acoustic guitar and mellotron:

I'm floating away on oceans of gray blue water
I'm rising above, I'm falling in love with the senator's daughter

It was at this point that I willfully misheard that lyric as "I'm falling in love with Fountains of Wayne."

Once you let Fountains of Wayne into your life, trust me, the days will seem brighter, food will taste better, and your salvation is guaranteed. Like Jesus with rocking. Or Mormonism with fun and caffeine. Go forth.

Bonus FoW treat: Although Utopia Parkway is one of my all-time favorite albums, I feel like I can't leave without mentioning that their all-time best song is on their third album, "Welcome Interstate Managers." That would be "Hey Julie," a syrup-y pile of soft percussion, acoustic guitars, and cuteness that makes me both go a big rubbery one and want to date some girl named Julie. Some soul was nice enough to put in a rudimentary music "video" on YouTube:

1 comment:

Erin Mc said...

Lee-- I think that the radio station in That Thing You Do is WCOL, a real station. (I didn't watch the video clip.)

Even if it wasn't, I remember having the conversation with my dad about them using a real radio station, and actually doing their research.

Oh, and I do like FoW. My favorite song would have to be "Winter Valley Song." Just in case you wanted to know.