Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Don't You Know About These Guys? - Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers"

If “Welcome Interstate Managers” had been released in 1969, we’d all still be fondly remembering it as a classic, while looking down on "today’s music”. But it is today’s music. It isn’t Cover of Cover of Welcome Interstate Managers“obscure” to anyone who follows pop music today. But you don’t, do you?

I remember being at an older friend’s house years ago. I was in my twenties, and he was in his thirties. He could afford cable, and had on MTV. The video for “Radio Free Europe” by REM came on. At the end of it, the older one shook his head, half in bewilderment and half in dismissal, saying “never heard of ‘em”.
The bewilderment was the most honest part of the reaction. But it still begged the question – why not? Well, work, kids, bills. In other words, he was a normal guy in his thirties. (I, however, am still abnormal, which is why I still follow these things.)

I guess he assumed that he still had his finger on the pulse of popular culture. It’s understandable because he had been listening to an AOR ("Album Oriented Rock") station for years. It's possible that this station was great in 1969, but now it was overplaying what was to become known as “classic rock”, along with lousy current music.
But of course he was deluding himself. He was no longer in the demographic that heard every new development in pop music. It didn’t help that AM radio sucked during the seventies. So he listened to AOR, assuming he was hearing what there was to be heard. No wonder he thought that they don’t make good music anymore.

And now, as much as popular culture may seem to be rammed down everyone’s throats, it doesn’t mean that the good stuff – stuff that would keep you enthusiastic about music - is going to be easy to spot. That went out with the sixties. There’s just too much stuff now. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Anyway, back to Fountains of Wayne. Remember them?

I must confess that when I unwrapped “Welcome Interstate Managers” it, I immediately began having doubts. Oh, no, I thought. Did I really need to own more “product” even if it was my favorite kind (guitar based pop music)? The first listen didn’t encourage me either. It sure seemed like guitar based pop product that would now take up precious space on my CD shelf. Wouldn’t that space be put to use with another stab at jazz, world music, or another genre that I really should get to know better?

Then I began to notice that at every point where a cliché would have been enough to get by, there was either a smart turn of phrase, or a better hook than absolutely necessary. Just when you think you’re listening to another not-bad-at-all-so-far pop album (around track four) that should be leveling off about now, things hit a peak for three straight songs. Several very good songs follow, and things finish up with two big bangs and then a sigh.

You may have heard “Stacy’s Mom” already, but it’s far from the best thing on the record. My vote goes to the beautiful “All Kinds of Time”, but I wouldn’t argue if you said “Valley Winter Song”. The rest is so varied and enjoyable that we’d never agree on second favorites. Well, that doesn’t tell you very much except how much I liked it. But I think you will, too.

You’ll also notice several themes of running through the record – career, alcohol, love - and how they bump into each other until you are ready to lose your soul. And how your boss is always there willing to buy it.

I thought that people in my age range would identify with this, so I bought it for several friends who were all turning fifty this year. I know that if the music doesn’t get them (it will) the words will (they will). I haven’t picked up anything else by FOW yet. (My sister, however, who turned me on to this CD, did. They are now her favorite band.)

Let me know what you think of it.

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