(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, the duo behind Fountains of Wayne, just released their first new album since 2007. "Sky Full of Holes" showcases the detailed storytelling and bright melodies that rock critic Ken Tucker says can occasionally hide darker thoughts.
(Soundbite of song, "The Summer Place")
Mr. CHRIS COLLINGWOOD (Singer, Fountains of Wayne): (Singing) She's been afraid of the Cuisinart since 1977. Now when she opens up the house well, she won't set foot in the kitchen. Her brother's dating an architect. They're coming up for the weekend. He never gave her the proper respect, but she still meets the ferry to greet them.
Oh, at the summer place...
KEN TUCKER: There's a dreamy summer breeze wafting through much of "Sky Full of Holes," as though Fountains of Wayne wanted to make the new album synch up with the season. And, just as this summer has been hotter than many recent ones, there's also a warm intensity to some of the songs, such as the album's first single, "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart."
(Soundbite of song, "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart")
Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) Staring at the sun with no pants on, high round and rosy, she thinks she knows me. Fighting off a cold. Murdering a campfire song.
Spitting in the wind, from out a fast train or on a causeway. Trying to catch a bus. Swear I got to move, suffering the radio crime.
So whistle in the sweet pine trees, the imaginary airport breeze. It flickers and flows fans fires in the road, and all we want to do is go home. Someone's going to break your heart one cold gray morning. But she sings, oh-oh-whoa...
TUCKER: The 13 tracks on "Sky Full of Holes" are pretty consistent pleasures in the manner we've come to expect from Fountains of Wayne: precisely worded, catchy songs about small moments in life that can be breezy and witty, as well as breezy, witty and poignant.
Their biggest hit, 2003's "Stacy's Mom" - a winking foray into broad, slightly broad humor - holds the same place in Fountains of Wayne's career as "Dead Skunk" does in Loudon Wainwright III's; or as "Short People" did in Randy Newman's - a fluke for which there's no reason to try and replicate, and thus the musicians went back to their more clever business. Like this song, "Richie and Ruben," about a couple of on-the-make entrepreneurs who aren't nearly as smart as they think they are.
(Soundbite of song, "Richie and Ruben")
Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) They opened up a bar called Living Hell. Right from the start it didn't go too well. They didn't have the vibe or quite the right clientele. They bought a velvet rope and the doorman laughed. They got robbed blind by half the wait staff. Six short weeks and they were forced to sell.
Richie and Ruben don't know what they're doing. Richie and Ruben are both a little out of their minds. Don't give them a dime. They'll blow through your dough just like they blew through mine.
TUCKER: You could say that "Richie and Ruben" is Fountains of Wayne's Steely Dan song - cynical about subjects that merit cynicism, presenting a narrator who thinks he's tough-minded but might be one of the suckers that Richie and Ruben have scammed in the past.
One of the prettiest songs on the album is "A Road Song," about a guy in a rock band on tour who's missing his loved one so much, he's writing her a song. Its beauty is enhanced by the precision of its meter and rhyme.
(Soundbite of song, "A Road Song")
Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) We're still in Wisconsin as far as I know. Today was Green Bay and tomorrow Chicago. Wish I was lying, but there isn't much to report. My phone is dying, so I've got to keep it short.
I just wanted to say, hey. I've been writing you a road song. It's a cliche, but, hey. That doesn't make it so wrong. And in between the stops at the Cracker Barrel and 40 movies with Will Ferrell, I need some way to occupy my time. So I'm writing you a road song. I sure hope you don't mind.
TUCKER. At one point in that song, Fountains of Wayne sings, I bought you a light blue T-shirt last night from some band I couldn't stand but their logo's all right. That couplet is wry and sweet, and I admire the little internal rhyme of light and night in the first line. But what clinches its fineness is the way it captures something that happens in everyday life but is rarely noted: People do make purchases, such as a souvenir T-shirt, just because it looks good. It's not exactly an ironic buy, but it's close. More overt is the wistful sarcasm a bit later, when the narrator describes his road song by singing, I know it's not what you'd call necessary and I know that I'm no Steve Perry. For Fountains of Wayne fans, Journey is definitely an irony-inducer.
Fountains of Wayne is loathe to make music cast as grand tragedy or melodrama. But at least a couple of times here, Collingwood and Schlesinger capture a mood of quiet despair in the songs "Action Hero," about a hapless suburban dad; and this song, "Hate to See You Like This," in which the narrator tries to cajole a young woman out of her listless depression.
(Soundbite of song, "Hate to See You Like This")
Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) Come on girl youre not even trying. Your place is a mess and all your friends are dying. Youre lying around in your sweatpants staring off into the distance. Come and give a kiss. I hate to see you like this. I hate to see you like this.
TUCKER: Fountains of Wayne is without doubt the finest contemporary pop-rock band in America, and that and 99 cents will get you a Lady Gaga download. Collingwood and Schlesinger occasionally pursue separate projects. Collingwood, who likes country music, reportedly has a solo album in the works; while Schlesinger has continued his interest in Broadway by co-writing the opening song on this past year's Tony Awards, "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore," performed by host Neil Patrick Harris. And jolly good for them, as long as it means the twosome will continue to regroup for more, refreshed Fountains of Wayne-ness.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Sky Full of Holes" from Fountains of Wayne.
You can download Podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
(Soundbite of song, "Acela")
Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) There's a train on a track painted silver, blue and black. Heading to Massachusetts and then it's coming back and it's entertaining by New Haven once you've had yourself a drink or two, ooh ooh. All alone on the Acela. Tell me baby, where the hell are you? Acela. Ooh ooh.
There's a girl on a train leaning on a window pane, reading People magazine. Just to help turn off her brain. And I swear I caught her staring at me. Maybe...
(Soundbite of music)