Review by LarryG|
3 stars out of 4
There's no band making better pure pop than Fountains of Wayne. The
Fountains' leaders Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger sound like
they're having a great time and they share the fun with the audience.
They write unpretentious, smart, funny songs with simple, but vivid
stories. Utopia Parkway has the feel of a couple of guys excited about
the possibilities available to them, looking to try new things but
working to their strength: their ability to make great pop songs. While
keeping their sense of fun, the band has evolved since their debut. On
that record Fountains of Wayne seemed like two guys just happy to have
a chance to be making music. The lyrics were largely about being excited
to be in the big city and experience new things. While still fun, Utopia
Parkway is a little more mature. There's even a sense of nostalgia as
the songs look back wistfully to growing up in New York's outer boroughs.
The production, with Collingwood and Schlesinger working with a full
band, sounds more sophisticated and thought out.
Utopia Parkway has a nice mix of pop styles. The first couple of songs
would fit well on the debut record. The title track is a cute story of
a naive young guy playing in a cover band, putting up fliers for his
band's gig, sure he's going to make it in the music biz. The character
is clearly proud of the double meaning of the song's title. He's not
just riding on that Queens boulevard, he's on the road to bliss. The
music is great with a cool 70's style guitar riff and pure Beach Boys
backup vocals. Red Dragon Tattoo is about a kid going to Coney Island
to get a tattoo to show a girl he's cool, "like that guy from
Korn." The music is gleeful with a great cheesy keyboard solo.
The rest of the album shows off the band's encyclopedic knowledge of
pop history and growing musical skills. Go, Hippie has a psychedelic
pop edge like a good Oasis song. It Must Be Summer and Lost in Space are
great, fast pop fun. Denise, with its filtered vocals, fast power
guitar chords, driving beat and low budget keyboards, is an exhilarating
Devo tribute. The band does just as well when they slow things down. Hat
and Feet has a nice cool feel as Collingwood wryly stretches out
the image of feeling like he's been flattened by a piano falling out of
the window. Troubled Times is a nice sympathetic song about a couple
with feelings for each other who can't make things work. A Fine Day For
a Parade is genuinely poignant in telling the story of an old woman who
escapes an unhappy present with alcohol and memories of happier times.
The band gently mocks its own adolescent days without condescension.
Laser Show has a simple Bay City Rollers style arrangement that
communicates how cool it was to go to the rock show at the planetarium.
Prom Theme has an appropriately innocent sweeping sound.
Every song on Utopia Parkway is good. With the general theme of
remembering a younger, more uncomplicated time in a suburban haven,
Fountains of Wayne have made a pop masterpiece filled with smart, musically
likeable music. It'll be interesting to see how Fountains of Wayne's
career continues to evolve but for fun, good songs, Utopia Parkway
will be hard to top.