Let’s get this right out of the way: Fountains of Wayne’s music hasn’t changed at all since the last time you heard it, or the time before that. Traffic and Weather is Welcome Interstate Managers, featuring more of the same teen potheads, cubicle screw-ups and lonely single Jersey girls that we met last time. A critic with less integrity and shame could just plagiarize a review of one of Fountains of Wayne’s previous three albums and start substituting song titles.
That’s not entirely a bad thing, but eventually, regardless of quality, a formula becomes stale, and there is ample evidence of such throughout Traffic and Weather. Some people may consider two songs on one album about dispiriting airport experiences as metaphors for life (“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim,” “Seatbacks and Traytables”) a recurring theme. I call it lazy.
As expected, though, Traffic and Weather teems with lyrical drollery. Nobody will confuse Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood for Leonard Cohen, but their canon of arrested-development Jersey-story songs provides compelling evidence that they are brilliant songwriters in their own manner. A lyric like “You pretend that you’re going to Sea Bright/ for the long weekend, but something don’t seem right” from “This Better Be Good” has an awkward grace that would fail in other hands.
Still, it doesn’t bode well for Fountains of Wayne’s looming one-hit-wonder status that there was no successful follow-up single to Welcome Interstate Managers‘ “Stacy’s Mom,” especially considering that there were at least a half-dozen songs on that album better than anything here. That’s less an indictment of the new album than a praise of its predecessor, but the fact remains that the perfectly pleasant Traffic and Weather is inarguably diminished returns.