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Wednesday, April 23, 2003
more rants about Pitchfork and fountains
I never thought I would be annoyed by a Pitchfork news item, but now I am. It's about Fountains of Wayne. Now, admittedly, I'm a FoW fan, but this is just annoying. Voila:
Just when you thought the wave of returning 90s radio bands had ebbed out, Fountains of Wayne bubble back to life. Not that they've really gone anywhere, it just takes them an unjustifiable 3-4 years to make an album...Fountains of Wayne haven't graced us with an album since 1999's Utopia Parkway, and haven't graced us with a decent album since their eponymous 1996 debut. We suppose the theme-song writing has got to take priority. As you might know, back in the day Adam Schlesinger wrote the theme for the 1996 Tom Hanks flick That Thing You Do! Since then, Fountains of Wayne penned the theme to Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, and, according to Billboard.com, will do the theme, write original songs for each episode, and appear as animated characters on the upcoming VH1 series Hey Joel. Amazingly, they go around admitting all of this. These guys are like the Dorian Grays of being perpetually fifteen!
Still, we kinda find ourselves rooting for this album...
Well jeez guys, I'm glad you told me you like them, because otherwise I woulda been confused. Generally I tend to try and assess the work of people I like fairly instead of sneering at it because it's on VH1 or has Tom Hanks in it, but that's up to you, I guess. I'm assuming the thing about "an unjustifiable 3-4 years" is a deliberate error, since it's common knowledge (and public record) that they got dropped from their label after Utopia Parkway and have been looking for a new one. And it's my knowledge that the album's been demoed and ready to be recorded for at least a year, if not more.
As for being "the Dorian Grays of being perpetually fifteen!" they are fairly mature and have wives and like that, you know? If anything, they're a bit too professional, this all harking back to the pre-band days, when publishing was king and songwriters had all the power, professionals who cared about the craft and the business. Adam and Chris are, above all, songwriters, and their music and aethetic reflects that, which I think is something weirdly lacking in a lot of music today. I don't know why music biz people love FoW so much, but it does seem to be a common trait--they're the band everyone wishes had really broken wider than "Radiation Vibe." And that's why they keep going on, after all, since they clearly have an embarassing number of great songs in them. We're just waiting for everyone else to catch on. And seriously, how cool does that VH1 thing sound? Fucking cool, that's how.
OK, OK. But then I clicked through to the Utopia Parkway review which was written by none other than...Brent DiCresenzo! And oh, it's annoying. Once again, Brent doesn't like it, but less because it's bad and more because it doesn't feel right, you know? Also, he has philosophical issues.
He writes: "This album is suburbia perfectly captured by four suburbanites with suburban sounds-- neon, sod, and concrete pressed into DAT plastic. Perhaps their accomplishment is to be commended, but then again... it's suburbia, and how banal is that?" Well, fuck, Brent, as banal as songs about girls, or school, or drinking, or music--as banal as fucking rock and roll. Sigh. Besides that, though, I think he misses the point. This is actually a profoundly local album. I've been in a decent number of suburbs--I do love the suburbs--and the amazing thing about Utopia Parkway is how exactly it captures the suburbs around New York City. This album just sounds like driving through Long Island on a summer day. And that's fairly specifically stated in the context of the album--the Hayden Planitarium, Coney Island, and the LIE all make appearances, and the name of the album comes from a Long Island parkway. Brent's reducing it to something so he can better make fun of it, but I think that's unfair. Check the last paragraph:
One of Utopia Parkway's highlights is a well- acted ballad about Senior Prom that would break Seth Green's heart. It's a nice song and all, but I can't help hearing it playing over the slow- dance scene in "She's All That 2: A Bag of Chips." If an album could ever be accused of being too nice, this would be it. Nothing offends. No sound feels out of place. No vocal is out of harmony. And you know what? It's boring. Move to the city or the woods.
First off, that song ("Prom Theme") is great because you can, as I have, play it at high school dances and get the kids to slow-dance to a song which includes the vers "We'll pass out on the beach/our keys just out of reach/soon we'll say goodbye/then we'll work until we die." More broadly, though, what the fuck? You can only make good music if you live in "the city or the woods"? What kind of toothless-old-blues-guy-worshipping bullshit is that, huh? Goddamn, I bet Brent's from Woodlawn or Towson or Crystal Lake or some shit and is really embarassed about it.
Well, this is just getting overly vituperative, so I will cut it off, but grr.