Saturday, January 21, 2012

Michael Fremer Album Review

Sky Full of Holes
(new release)

Fountains of Wayne

Yep roc Yep 2247 180g LP

Produced by: Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger

Engineered by: Geoff Sanoff

Mixed by: John Holbrook

Mastered by: George Marino at Sterling Sound

Vinyl Cut by: A. Nonymous



Store Gone, Fountains Still Spew
by Michael Fremer
December 01, 2011

Named for a now defunct Northern New Jersey, Route 23 lawn furniture emporium (bought my chaise lounges there!), Fountains of Wayne has been making consistently tuneful and erudite observations about just plain folks since 1996 when they released their eponymous first album on Atlantic Records. The core was then and is now, the delightfully bratty-voiced Chris Collingwood and his multi-instrumental partner Adam Schlesinger.

But you probably already know that, having consumed with great pleasure the rest of the group's witty, melodic, easily digestible musical output. And if not, why not?

Having grown up a short Q44 bus ride away from Utopia Parkway, the group's second album and also having lived in "Hackensack," a song from the group's third album Welcome Interstate Managers I feel somehow oddly connected to these guys. I certainly share their sense of humor. But enough about me.

1999's Utopia Parkway concerned itself generally with teenaged angst, but more specifically, the awkward period of time between physically and mentally moving out of one's childhood home and establishing one's adulthood. Catchy couplets, hummable melodies and enthusiastic reviews didn't translate into huge sales and Atlantic dropped them.

They carried on with 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers containing another collection of irresistiblly tuneful tales mining with even greater precision the same subject matter, including the MILF anthem "Stacey's Mom," the inside the quarterback's head "All Kinds of Time" and the played against type sincerity of the Paul Simon-ish "Valley Winter Song." Another great album with zero filler.

It takes these guys a college education's worth of time to produce a new album, which brought about 2007's very fine but somewhat less memorable Traffic and Weather and now 2011's Sky Full of Holes.

This one finds the duo diving, not just dipping into the Difford/Tilbrook playbook, with a more acoustic flavor than usual, backed by guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young. The connection between Fountains and Squeeze's mid-tempo tunefulness has always been there, just more understated than here. Here it's upfront on the opening hilarity and chaos of "The Summer Place," a song about the comings and goings on an island vacation home and a women who "ran away (from home) back in '78," meaning the songwriting duo has trained its eyes on a forty-something instead of a twenty-something.

"Richie and Ruben" (rhymes with a partnership that don't know what its doin') concerns a duo, friends since the seventh grade, that doesn't do well in business, first with a restaurant and then a boutique. "Acela" breezily observes people on the Amtrak to Boston, while "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" is in the wistful, end of summer melodic mode Fountains does so well.

"Action Hero" looks at a middle-aged guy living a banal but stressed-out suburban family life who gets by imagining himself a leaper of tall buildings. In other words, the subjects have now made the jump from in-between adolescent time to full fledged adulthood. The side ends with a nostalgic look back at a couple's 1998 Caribbean vacation. No country mentioned, but sounds like Jamaica.

There's a wonderfully resigned "road song" that dips into "Valley Winter Song" territory written to the one who stayed home in which Collingwood self-deprecatingly sings "And I know that I'm no Steve Perry." As side two rolls along, the brattiness gives way to the sincerity of "Workingman's Hands" that could end up in a Home Depot commercial, followed by the equally sincere, Springsteen-ish "pick yourself up" song "Hate to See You LIke This." "Radio Bar" picks up the pace but the lyrical and musical mood is '70s nostalgic.

The "Firefight Waltz" gets downright soft and cuddly, while the album's closer, "Cemetery Guns," which contains the album title within its lyrics, indicates a profound seriousness signaling either the end of the road or a turn onto a new one for Fountains of Wayne. Either way, the album ends with a weighty sputter not a frothy flash. Fans won't want to miss this latest tuneful installment whatever it signals for the future.

The recording and mix are serviceable and well organized digital, probably Pro-Tools. Its quite listenable by today's standards but that's about it. While George Marino mastered the files, the label wouldn't pay Sterling's lacquer cutting rate and I have no idea who did the honors. The 180g pressing was excellent and the record was in a nice paper and rice paper sleeve within a well-presented jacket. A glossy one sheet presents the lyrics. The free MP3 download includes bonus material not on the album as well as a free Yep Roc musical sampler.

Thanks to Michael over at for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

No comments: