Forecast Looks Bright for FOW’s Traffic and Weather

There’s a tradition in American pop music where artists struggle after the’ve hit it big. Think Bob Dylon after Blonde on Blonde, Springsteen after Born in the USA, Alanis Morrisette after Jagged Little Pill. It boils down to this: once an artist says what they want to say what’s there to do next?

That feeling permeates Fountains of Wayne’s latest Traffic and Weather. FOW hit it big five years ago with Welcome Interstate Managers, a rousing showcase of power pop. The collection was best know for its superhit Stacey’s Mom but it was also a solid set of Beatles-influenced rock that hadn’t been heard since the late 1970s early 1980s new wave influx. Since WIM little has been heard from the band named after the Wayne, NJ, lawn ornament store, other than a collection of rarities and B-sides, Out of State Plates.

One imagines that the band took some time off but also took a lot of time figuring out what to do next. The result is a brooding, lonely set of songs masquerading as upbeat fluff. The album’s sound is pure Jeff Lynn ELO mixed with a bit of Traveling Wilburys for good measure but the writing is Bruce Springsteen circa Darkness on the Edge of Town. Success seems to have caused if not melancholy than a good dose of circumspection in FOW’s songs.

Nearly all of the characters in the set are lonely folks some at the very breaking point of pathos. The title song is about unrequited love between local news anchors (it also sports the best line of the album “Chuck Scarborough Turns to Sue Simmons/Says Sugar you don’t know what you’re missing”). A jokey premise but underneath there’s a longing that’s borderline scary.

There are also characters in debt and out of prison, lonely waitresses that bolt supposed greener pastures in Lichtenstein and disconnected urban professionals who have nothing to look forward to except a warm shower and an hour of late night TV. This is except from “Someone to Love” is typical.

He calls his mom, says he’s doing fine
She’s got somebody on the other line
Puts Coldplay on, pours a glass of wine
and curls up with a book about organized crime

When it’s late
And it’s hot
And a date with the Late Show is all that you’ve got
Don’t give out
Don’t give up
One of these nights you might find someone to love

The plight of the office worker, extreme commuter and put upon saleseman has always been a cause du jour for Fountains of Wayne but never before has the band taken the suburban malaise as seriously as it has here. Though Traffic and Weather on the surface seems to be more of the same it’s a significant step forward for a band that should be considered more than just power pop.

JCP.S. This is a sad coda. We tried to pick up Traffic and Weather the week it released at Best Buy and Coconuts music stores only to find it missing from the new releases rack and the FOW bin. This is a sad, sad state of affairs in music land. We understand that music purchases have moved online and more and more simply downloaded from the net but it’s a little sad that two stores, just a stones throw from the aforementioned Fountains of Wayne store aren’t stocking this NY-NJ band’s new release. We eventually got our copy from Amazon.


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