Desert Island Discs: “Fountains of Wayne” (1996)Posted: May 11, 2012
My friend Ann nominated the band Fountains of Wayne for a Desert Island Disc. I don’t have many of their CDs but the ones I do have, I play a lot. And way before Stacy’s mom had it going on came their debut album in 1996, simply titled “Fountains of Wayne.”
I love the story behind this one. Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger were friends who played guitars together, and made up songs featuring inside jokes and private references to crack each other up. (This is what my pal Hoky and I have been doing for more than thirty-five years.) Working as a duet with a sideman or two, they banged this one out in only five days. Unheard of. And this gives the album a very likeable “garage band” vibe.
The album is a collection of short, catchy, hook-centered pop songs, recorded when the band was just a duo. Critics lauded the tight immediacy of the songs, a probable consequence of the five days it took to record; and the funny, friendly relationship of songwriters Collingwood and Schlesinger was the most prominent feature of the album. The songs were written over a period of years as outlets to make each other laugh through inside jokes and references to suburban life in New York and New Jersey.
I don’t know if “nerd rock” is a genre, but it should be. And these guys would be The Beatles of nerd rock. According to reviewer Blake Maddux:
Schlesinger and Collingwood are not afraid to embrace the fact that they were high school losers, and they make particularly poignant observations about being so, as well as some keen insights into the love and work tribulations of their fellow twenty-somethings… Several of the dozen songs on “Fountains of Wayne” fall into one (or both) of two categories: confrontational character studies and self-pitying personal laments. Of course, the distinction between these two categories isn’t always completely obvious, and there are also times when they feel the pain of others… The main goals of alternative pop rock (and power pop) are to be fun and catchy in heavy doses, and poignant in measured doses. “Fountains of Wayne” achieves all three of these goals in an admirable and thoroughly enjoyable fashion.
I bought this one strictly on the basis of a review. I should do that more often; I’ve had extraordinary luck. All the songs are excellent but the one that grabbed me in the first listen was “Survival Car,” which became one of the singles:
The showcase of the album for me is “Sick Day,” which could be the soundtrack from a particularly good episode of “The Office.”
And the last song on the CD, “Everything’s Ruined,” sounds to my ear like a very, very good Simon and Garfunkel song.
Can’t leave out “Leave The Biker”:
Now his friend leans over and says
“Looks like we got us a fag”
I wonder if that guy’s read one word
That wasn’t in a porno mag
And I wonder if he ever has cried
‘Cause his kitten got run over and died?
He’s got his arms around every man’s dream
And crumbs in his beard from the seafood special
Oh, can’t you see my world is falling apart
Baby, please leave the biker
Leave the biker, break his heart
But they’re all good. Unequivocal and unreserved recommendation as a Desert Island Disc.