clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
If you're curious what noise I made when Rob forwarded me Ryan Schreiber's review of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom," rest assured that it was a zombie-like "Muuuust...kiiillll!" (It was a late night last night.) Let's quote the damn thing and then write a letter.

Fountains of Wayne: "Stacy's Mom"
Can a song be too catchy? I'm afraid the answer is yeah, and this me-decade throwback is insidious proof. The hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time. And that's not even getting into discussing its inane lyrics, or the topic cribbed from the only passable song ever written by Sub Pop's mid-90s proto-mallpunkers Chixdiggit! ("Where's Your Mom").

But somehow, the melody broke me down. I got past its shameless predictibility and the unforgivable refrain (the title character "has got it goin' on," among the most dated expressions you could hope not to encounter on the radio today), and really loved it-- for one day. Which is when I discovered that it's one of those rare tracks that subtly implants itself in your head where it creates an unshakable three-to-five day-long extended mix of itself. From there, it's a downhill battle trying to force in other simiarly catchy songs to overpower it. You will lose. And when you finally lie down, exhausted, defeated and stinking of 20-year-old bubblegum, you will curse yourself for not knowing how or why this track chose you for its victim. --Ryan Schreiber

** rating

Dear Ryan,

Good christ, man, do you know anything about Fountains of Wayne? Did you just see their video on MTV2 and have an indie-kid allergic reaction? I mean, it's not like they're an obscure band--you've gotta know something, right?

Why then, claims that the "hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time." What the hell is an "easy" hook? I've been playing guitar for 10 years and the only easy hooks I know are Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," and the ones I hear in "Stacy's Mom" don't come anywhere close to that; the little turn at the end of the opening riff is particularly nice. Maybe you just mean it sounds familiar? Well, sure--the hit that similarly comes near the end of that hook is a reference to the Cars' "Just What I Needed," and I think that's nice, since the rest of the hook surrounding it doesn't have much to do with the Cars.

But more importantly, why the "record company" stuff? Are you really trying to imply that they made this song as a bid for international superstardom? Because the history of FoW is pretty clear on this point--yeah, they're pretty enmeshed in the biz, which I think is kind of a neato art statement myself, but anyway, I don't think they harbor any illusions that two men approaching middle age and playing a commercially debased genre (power pop) are going to be playing the Budokan anytime soon. They've got a video on MTV2? Great! It's a great song, and it should be played. That a good band has a label behind it willing to spend a little is, I think, a good thing.

But obviously you don't actually think a record company went through the elaborate steps you describe. What you're saying, instead, is that a hook that good could not have been crafted by the hands of mortal men, but had to have come out of some mystical / scientific process. This is clearly not true--I like the hook and all, but there are others that are just as good that were definitely written by individual human beings. So are you incredulous because Fountains of Wayne are actually getting heard and listened to by many people instead of languishing in obscurity--or instead of being heard by many people 30 years ago and forgotten today? Or are you incredulous because, surely, no one who could write such silly lyrics could ever write a good hook? (Won't address your thoughtless dismissal of the words here, but you might take note of the brief, sad twist at the end of the last verse which might redeem it for gloomy-guts such as y'all.)

Well, whichever it is, it brings us to your main, weirdest criticism: that it's, um, too catchy. Gotta admit that I don't know what's up with this, at least as a critical judgment. Sure, some songs get caught in your head (although "Stacy's Mom" never got in mine that much), and some of these songs are pretty bad, but what you seem to be saying is that you thought "Stacy's Mom" was a good song until it got caught in your head. What the hell is that supposed to mean? It suddenly changed in worth because you were too fucking stupid to hum the "Smurfs" theme a few times? Spare me.

All in all, it casts further doubts on the whole WATW revamp; OK, you like pop with drum machines now, but still not guitar pop? What gives, hombres? I'm beginning to think Matt P's comments on my first complaint were on-target.