What makes for a good pop record? Is it the highly infectious hook with enough sugar coating to rot grandpa’s dentures or is it the suave, sexy beats permeating club floors? Does one write a good pop song when they sing of troubled life or is it only pop when we are left smiling at song’s end? The truth is, Top 40 radio is simply not reserved for just one genre – hip hoppers who rhyme about late night sexual escapades share the spotlight with young teen sensations who sing about late night sexual escapades, who in turn revel in the mass payola pay-off with pop rockers, country popsters and displaced indie rockers; all of who, in one way or another, are trying to stave off a one time only trip to one-hit wonderland.
So as this mass appeal madness continues to broaden its musical horizons, bands who wish to partake in Billboard chart lunacy have to face the notion that writing one good song won’t keep those royalty checks rolling in (unless of course it’s some insipid television show jingle that ends up being played every Thursday for almost a decade) and that retaining a listener’s attention is far more difficult than attracting it. Perhaps, the ultimate statement being that writing accessible music is stratospheres above writing songs of novelty.
If you’ve happen to catch Fountains of Wayne’s recent radio entry (“Stacy’s Mom” – long ride sing-a-long stickiness plus super vamped Rachel Hunter video), you could easily dismiss them for their overly sweet and endearing features; but they’re not some gimmick stricken novelty. With two full lengths (now three) filling their discography (Fountains of Wayne; 1996, Utopia Parkway; 1999), these Tri-state friendly lads have penned enough appealing songs to avoid being shelved with the Wheatuses of the world.
Welcome Interstate Managers is far from being just a power pop album; while they fuse chunkier-than-Rivers Cuomo-on-his-best-day riffs on a few occasions (“Stacy’s Mom”, “Bright Future in Sales” and the smartly wonderful “Mexican Wine”), they strum a much rooted acoustic driven rock/folk/country tone for the majority of this outing. And among these more gentle string pullings lie the unrelenting lyrical onslaught of sugary nice and cleverly simple.
It is that straightforward quality that immerses itself in bright sun-shiny grace. “Mexican Wine” features the rhyming couplets “And the sun still shines in the summertime / I’ll be yours if you’ll be mine / I tried to change but I changed my mind / Think I’ll have another glass of Mexican Wine” to the backdrop of crystal clear melodies, light keyboard touches and whole dose of “everything will be okay” thoughts. If fuzzed out guitars are too much to take paved with such saccharine lyrical tones, then the countrified licks of “Hung Up On You” may provide the settings for words that go “Well the house I’m ringing up from / is half a mile from you / But with reception I’m getting / Might as well be Timbuktu”. This sort of tasteful, yet humongously tongues-firmly-in-cheek persona elevates Welcome Interstate Managers into something great; like the rippling ocean waves caressing the warm sandy beach, a good portion of this album flourishes in fun and sunshine, teeming with seemingly lost optimistic glow.
So what makes a good pop record? Welcome Interstate Managers does – Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are a formidable songwriting duo crafting accessible songs that are simplistic in nature but adaptive to the listener’s shifting tendencies. As previously stated, the trick is to write an album that has the staying power to survive the seemingly quick burnout of radio/TV rotation, and the latest offering from Fountains of Wayne is a legitimate pop-laced outing with depth; an ideal sound for the simmering days of summer; the sort of album you want to share with your friends.
(S-Curve / Virgin Records)