Fountains of Wayne songwriter Chris Collingwood towers over the beige blather of his confederates by penning songs that are exacting in their detail—instead of gloopy one-size-fits-all fare, the quartet’s surprise 2003 hit “Stacy’s Mom” offered a sexually deprived MILF hellbent on parading around in a towel. If the amorphous rock of Coldplay et al. merely tosses around blank-faced pronouns and forces us to project details from our own mundanity, Collingwood attempts universality by using the opposite approach: extreme specificity. When you get to know the titular hero of “Yolanda Hayes”—a DMV clerk who looks good under fluorescent lights—or Seth Shapiro, the malcontent food-industry lawyer (who happens, by the way, to like Coldplay) at the center of “Someone to Love,” they seem an awfully lot like you.
As with previous Fountains efforts like 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers or 1999’s Utopia Parkway, there’s nothing much challenging about the music on Traffic and Weather, which bounces between well-executed teen-movie power pop and shuffling acoustic ballads. But the songs also continue to excel at making a great something out of nothing. Shaping the flavorless dough of unremarkable power-chord rock and the trials of Gap shoppers, the record’s pinhole-view on a diorama of routine lives gives them believable depth. Whether we sit beside these folks while they wait for luggage (“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim”), hear instructions from airline attendants (“Seatbacks and Tray Tables”), or make tedious drives (“I-95″), the left-bent, middle-class everymen in these songs are consistently disarming. Even when the commonplace life lessons get ham-fisted—as on the chugging title track about love infiltrating the Channel 6 News Team, or the Thin Lizzy rocker ” ’92 Subaru”—Collingwood’s sharp wordplay lets him off the hook. Back behind that counter at the DMV, Yolanda Hayes looks like a real-life angel, florescent lights and all.
Fountains of Wayne play Webster Hall April 24, websterhall.com