ountains of Wayne’s last full-length, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, was about twice as long as it needed to be, and if you tuned out before “Hung Up On You” came around, you’re probably not alone. But if that’s the case, you missed out on a true artistic breakthrough for Fountains Of Wayne: they could have long, lucrative careers as pop-country ghostwriters. They’ve already got the wordplay down (“I’m hung up on you since you hung up on me”), and they could continue writing their slice-of-life vignettes where all name-dropping is fair game, no matter how lame it is (Puff Daddy, “that guy from Korn,” High Times, etc.). Most importantly, they’d be free of the constraints of dealing with the rock critics who originally championed them in the mid-’90s, heady times for irony-feted slackers with a tune. But despite being four years in the making, Traffic and Weather finds Fountains Of Wayne offering more of the same and yet decidedly less, working your nerves to the point where you’ll wonder whether you ever truly liked them in the first place.
Of course, you have to realize there is such a thing as good Fountains Of Wayne. Traffic and Weather certainly puts its best foot forward with lead single “Someone to Love.” Despite being a Killers tribute that’s about three years behind the times, lyrically it passes muster. Two overworked wage slaves spend nights alone and seem destined to come to a predictable get-together in the last verse. In a cruel twist, the woman cuts her presumed paramour off from a cab and “leaves him for dead.” This sort of snark is dearly missed, since FOW, at their best, sang about nothing at all (“Sink to the Bottom”) or getting a little sad (“A Fine Day for a Parade”).
More often than not, Traffic and Weather sounds like it came from the pen of a hopelessly tasteless sitcom writer as opposed to one of pop’s most respected songsmiths. Throughout, Adam Schlesinger breaks rank with his supposed forbearers (They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Richman) by finding inspiration in the laziest comedic tropes: Subarus, The Gap, funny black people names (I’m sure writing a song called “Yolanda Hayes” is its own reward for these guys), the DMV, New Jersey. I’m amazed there isn’t a Fresca gag in here.
Traffic and Weather is mostly the result of people gassed on the myth of their own cleverness failing to realize where they’re getting their inspiration. The on-set love affair in the title track probably wouldn’t exist without Anchorman, and once you get to the hook (“We go together like traffic and weather”), the only possible reaction is to never want to hear it again. Other than more cringe-worthy lyrics and weaker melodies, “’92 Subaru” is pretty much the same thing as “Utopia Parkway,” and “Yolanda Hayes” is pretty much the same thing as “Denise.” That’s pretty much all you need to know about Traffic and Weather: it’s exactly like their other albums (including its bloated run time) except worse in every way.
Or maybe I’m hearing this all wrong. Despite having some hits of his own, Adam Schlesinger will likely be remembered for penning the theme for That Thing You Do. I only recently found out he also shilled for Music And Lyrics, a movie so fuck-you obvious in its cynical pandering that it actually made me kinda depressed. I think it might have rubbed off on Schlesinger, someone who's made a career out of skewering pop-culture. But in 2007, he's trying to take aim at a moving target, facing the same quandary as the rest of us: what exactly is popular? I'm sure he's seen Fergie on the cover of Rolling Stone's "Hot Issue" despite having no ostensible fans and looking like a cross between Carmen Electra and an ottoman. He's likely read rave reviews of Fall Out Boy that go on about why they should be hated instead of if they're any good. And he probably can't help but find it funny that indie's biggest bands still can't outsell fourth-rate Jodeci ripoffs or pointless greatest-hits albums. It's possible that Schlesinger is just trying to reflect the times and give us what he thinks America wants; and if that's the case, it's his most vicious parody yet. If not, it’s a failure on every level.