- Song: "I-95"
- Artist: Fountains of Wayne
- CD: Traffic and Weather
- Genre: Pop
Fountains of Wayne's members don't get nearly enough credit for their ballads.
Fountains of Wayne's massively hooky power-pop songs have made it a critical darling, landed the group in the Top 40 (for 2003's ubiquitous "Stacy's Mom"), and even spawned one of the most spot-on musical commentaries in recent years: Robbie Fulks' "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" lays the band's formulas bare in hilarious fashion. Still, as splendidly infectious as their spangly pop ringers are, the first three Fountains of Wayne albums achieve enduring greatness through their gorgeous, full-blooded ballads. "Stacy's Mom" is a load of fun, but Welcome Interstate Managers enters another level entirely thanks to the winsome likes of "Hackensack" and "Valley Winter Song."
By comparison, the new Traffic and Weather feels strangely listless as a whole: Songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood remain masters of astute character sketches and sly wordplay, but the disc never fully coheres as more than a winning but uneven batch of playful novelty songs. Still, true to form, it hits a glorious peak during a lovely ballad.
With its characteristically detailed look at the pop-cultural detritus in a miserable late-night rest stop, "I-95" first appears to be just another Fountains of Wayne-ian look at someone's mundane, loveless existence. But as it unfolds, and as that rest stop takes shape as a demoralizing symbol of the sacrifices inherent in a long-distance relationship, "I-95" takes on a sincere sweetness that the band wears well. It's enough to make lighters wave and hearts break in equal measure.
This column originally ran on Mar. 26, 2007.
Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'