I love pop bands with high musical IQs. The usual suspects like The Beatles and Crowded House come to mind, but also really cerebral pop groups like XTC and The dB’s.
This brings us to Fountains of Wayne’s’ latest effort, Traffic and Weather. Since 1999’s brilliant Utopia Parkway, FoW has spent much of their time playing dumb, like a pop-group Paris Hilton. Though only partially successful, the New Jersey’s quartet’s latest breaks the cycle.
The first cut, Someone to Love, with its intoxicating hook and XTCesque chorus, is the band at its power-pop best. In contrast, ‘92 Subaru is merely a catchy echo of Brian Wilson, while track 3, Yolanda Hayes, highlights the arranging and writing skills of the band’s co-founders, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlessinger.
The title track, Traffic and Weather, combines wit and melody into a kick-ass rocker about newscasters with the hots for each other. Right now it’s my front-runner for pop song of the year. After that classic cut, however, the weather gets a bit unsettled. .
A stab at country pop fails with Fire in the Canyon, though the line “Was it driving together that drove us apart?” is pretty funny. The next cut, This Better Be Good, isn’t.
Things improve substantially with Revolving Dora, a delectable melody that could have come from The Beatles album Revolver. I-95 is a retread, and The Hotel Majestic, a band-on-the-road song, and New Routine are forgettable pop—though you’ll probably remember (and hum) Hotel Majestic’s cheery “hey heys.”
The last tune, Seatbacks and Traytables, is another-band-on-the-road song, this time a successful country-infused pop song and dance.
I’d like to champion Fountains of Wayne’s’ Traffic and Weather, but it’s a daunting task when a pop band’s musical IQ fluctuates so wildly from track to track. Nonetheless, there’s sufficient intellect on display to create interest for subjects as mundane as traffic and the weather.