Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, the core of Fountains of Wayne, have had the past four years to mollify the sting of critical negativity they received, not all that unrightfully, after releasing their second full-length, Utopia Parkway. This time around, with Welcome Interstate Managers, the pair is still conveying their usual ridiculously catchy intelligent power pop, running the gamut through country, acoustic ballads, and synth sounds, all wrapped in a timeless candy-coated shell. Power pop may not be chic anymore, but the 55-minute Welcome Interstate Managers combines the best aspects of early-80s post-punk and Rick Springfield singles. Indie kids are no longer ashamed to admit that they actually like catchy hooks and sweet, sweet harmonies, and with this record, Fountains of Wayne is teetering on a commercial breakthrough.
Welcome Interstate Managers is the third full-length since the band formed as Fountains of Wayne (after a Wayne, NJ gift shop of the same name) in 1996. Schlesinger and Collingwood, now each in their mid-30s, are lamentable about the demise of their respective 20s, and their songs smack of pre-mid-life crises and sadness about the adult life that lies ahead — or behind, in this case. The great thing about Welcome Interstate Manager is its sincerity; there’s no pretension.
“Bright Future in Sales” tells a tale about a guy who is optimistic about his intended career. What is more sincere, if not downright cheesy, than that? “Stacy’s Mom” is a song about jonesing for the ultimate fantasy woman — the hot mom. “Stacy’s Mom has got it going on/ I’m in love with Stacy’s mom,” shares a little piece of secret perversion that many a horned-up young man can relate to. The video, starring the still-hot Rachel Hunter, adds fuel to that fire. “Halley’s Waitress” is a homage to both the TV theme songs of the ’70s and that waitress behind the counter at the Waffle House up the street. There is little to fault here; it’s just pop music at its finest by two music veterans.
The lagging music industry should throw the flat pop of Justin/Christina away and indulge in the fizzy carbonation that is Fountains of Wayne. But it’s not the sugar that makes this record great, it’s the subtle hints of depth. The duo is at the top of its game; Welcome Interstate Managers is not only the band’s best yet, it’s one of the year’s best, too.