Under Review: Fountains Of Wayne – Sky Full Of Holes

Seeing a band in concert between albums is an experience that can yield unpredictable results. You’re undoubtedly going to be treated (or, perhaps, subjected) to unfinished new material alongside tested-and-true fan favorites. When I saw Fountains Of Wayne put on an acoustic show a few years ago, some new songs were indeed on the setlist, but damned if I can remember how they went. Listening to the band’s new album, Sky Full Of Holes, I’m led to believe that many of those songs made the cut, because they’re just as forgettable now as they were back in 2009. Gone are the crunchy hooks of Welcome Interstate Managers and Traffic And Weather and, in their place, the New Jersey quartet presents a baker’s dozen of tedious, joyless snoozers.

Fountains Of Wayne’s strongpoint was always the songwriting of singer Chris Collingwood and bassist Adam Schlesinger. Their smart, reference-barbed tales were subtle enough to avoid being cloying, and they were always good for wrapping their lyrics around a catchy melody. On Sky Full Of Holes, it’s the pop culture nods that come first, the actual songs becoming ancillary to moments of ‘look how clever I am.’ Mentions of Cuisinart (“The Summer Place”), Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (“Radio Bar”) and, well, “Acela” stand out more than the songs themselves, and that’s not a good thing. The stories that unfold on Sky Full Of Holes are filled with one-dimensional characters, none of whom are as relatable (or likeable) as those on previous efforts. “Richie And Ruben,” for example, spins a yarn about two painfully inept entrepreneurs. So what if they’re “robbed blind by half the wait staff”?  Collingwood and Schlesinger have fallen into a lackadaisical slump, something that even accomplished musicians struggle to emerge from. Almost ironically, they come close to showing dissatisfaction with their new material in “A Road Song” by making an “I know it’s cliche, but” observation. Sigh.

Sky Full Of Holes is made even more tiresome by its understated arrangements. Most songs are based around acoustic guitars and the occasional horn section, and the general mid-tempo pacing causes the album to crawl from song to song. The military-evoking closer, “Cemetery Guns,” is the only song that does its arrangement justice; Brian Young’s sharp marching band drum gives the song an appropriately mournful sorrow. While that might work for a song or two per record, that’s not where Fountains Of Wayne’s strengths lie. We can only hope that it’s not too late for Fountains Of Wayne to save themselves.

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~ by E. on August 5, 2011.

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