Fountains of Wayne

Utopia Parkway

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There's no denying that Fountains of Wayne know how to craft a great pop record. They know how to write a hook, they can pull of mild rockers and sweet ballads with equal aplomb, and they write melodies that feel like half-forgotten favorites. They have all the elements of a classic power pop band but they suffer from that peculiar '90s ailment -- detachment. For all their flair, talent, and craftsmanship, the band don't really dig deeper than the surface. Of course, that doesn't mean they make bad records, and their second album, Utopia Parkway, is, if anything, every bit as good as their fine debut. All the songs immediately make a connection and all of their melodic attributes simply strengthen with repeated listens. However, those repeated listens reveal that Fountains of Wayne don't have a lot to say. That's not a cardinal sin in guitar pop, since most bands simply recycle the same lovelorn themes, but Fountains choose to have fun with clich├ęs, throwing in goofy asides even in their ballads. Throughout the record, they seem like the well-read, pop culture-saturated kids who sat in the back of the classroom, cracking jokes that only they can understand. Depending on your view, this either enhances the fun or keeps the record at a distance, because if you don't share their disdain for hippies, laser shows, proms, malls, and bikers, it will be a little hard to sing along with those glorious melodies. For some, this may be a minor point, but consider this: emotional depth is what lifted Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend to classic status and what keeps Utopia Parkway from truly soaring, despite its many virtues.

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