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Utopia Parkway

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Utopia Parkway

Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: April 1999

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.



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