On their long-awaited third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains Of Wayne tackle such time-honored pop subjects as love, work, frustrated commuters, drunken salesmen, retired airline pilots, pressured quarterbacks, bad waitresses, vegan entrepreneurs, clip-on ties, exploding cell phones, lawn mowing, vacations without the kids, New England snowstorms, lousy directions, and, of course, Face The Nation.
Stylistically, the new album finds the group (which also includes guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young) stretching out considerably. In addition to the trademark FOW power-pop of songs like "Bright Future In Sales" and "Stacy's Mom", there is the acoustic-based intimacy of tracks like "Valley Winter Song", "Hackensack" and "Hey Julie"; trashy guitar rock on "Little Red Light" and "Bought For A Song"; the pop-orchestral flourishes of "Mexican Wine" and "Halley's Waitress"; the laid-back shuffle of "Peace And Love"; hints of 60's psychedelia on songs like "No Better Place" and "Supercollider"; and even a country song ("Hung Up On You", which features a guest appearance by pedal-steel phenom Robert Randolph).
But what holds it all together is FOW's consistent storytelling ability, as well as an unerring gift for melody. The characters that populate the songs on Welcome Interstate Managers cope with relationships, jobs, hangovers, and traffic jams in a way that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever been in love, employed, hungover, and/or stuck in traffic. And, as always, the songs take up permanent residence in your brain after only one listen.
Collingwood and Schlesinger say they began playing music together in college "sometime in the previous century." They performed together in a series of bands with names such as Are You My Mother? and Three Men Who When Standing Side By Side Have A Wingspan Of Over Twelve Feet. At one point in the early 90's, they even began work on an album for a start-up indie label, which soon folded, and the album was never finished or released. They claim to be quite grateful for this in hindsight.
After a brief respite, the duo reconvened in New York City, and formed FOW around an inspired batch of new songs. They named their new group after a lawn ornament store in Wayne, NJ, near Schlesinger's hometown of Montclair (the store has since gained further notoriety thanks to multiple appearances on HBO's The Sopranos). Although the debut album Fountains Of Wayne was recorded largely as a duo, Porter (formerly of The Belltower) and Young (formerly of The Posies) joined the band shortly before the record's release in 1996. The subsequent radio and video success of songs like "Radiation Vibe" and "Sink To The Bottom" kept the foursome on the road for over a year.
Their sophomore release, 1999's Utopia Parkway, a cycle of songs set in and around the Tri-State Area, expanded the band's fanbase both at home and abroad, and showed up on dozens of year-end "Best Of" lists. Again, the group toured the world extensively for over a year, and for no particular reason learned how to say "I am an umbrella" in over a dozen languages.
Then, after a lengthy hiatus during which they discovered many interesting things about the music business, Fountains Of Wayne began work on the songs that became Welcome Interstate Managers. Schlesinger and Collingwood produced the new album along with longtime collaborator Mike Denneen, and in addition to the aforementioned Robert Randolph also features guest appearances by former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, Boston-based singer/songwriter Jen Trynin, and others.