Fountains of Wayne: Utopia Parkway
Happy anthems of suburban childhoodBy Daniel Katz
Nowadays, concept albums pop up all over the music world, usually focusing on futuristic, space themes, such as in Smashmouth’s recent Astro Lounge and Radiohead’s OK Computer. Leave it to a down-to-earth New York band like Fountains of Wayne to revolutionize the genre by simplifying it, in the form of Utopia Parkway (Atlantic), a chronicle of young suburban life that is also a huge step forward for the band creatively.
Fountains of Wayne is a group known for pleasantly catchy tunes, achieving moderate success with “Radiation Vibe” and “Sink to the Bottom,” while guitarist Adam Schlesinger landed an Oscar nomination for penning “That Thing You Do!” But while their earlier album was composed of assorted love songs, Utopia Parkway confronts childhood memories like senior proms, getting a tattoo, and road trips to the “Laser Show” and the “Valley of Malls.” Some are acoustic ballads, some are retro rock, but the quaint neighborly theme makes all of them friendly and accessible. A typical example is “It Must Be Summer,” a pining ode for a girlfriend who’s gone away on summer vacation. Obviously, this isn’t the most emotionally intense of themes, but somehow the childhood angst is believable and moving.
The rawest song on the album is also the first single, a tune called “Denise,” which contrasts crunchy guitars with a sha-la-la chorus in an ode to the coolest girl on the block. The best track by far is “Troubled Times,” a tranquil acoustic tale of hope that your love is requited. Schlesinger and front man Chris Collingwood flesh out their little town with eccentric characters, like the jaded alcoholic Mrs. Carver in “A Fine Day For A Parade,” and litter their lyrics with pop culture references.
Utopia Parkway doesn’t really include any fancy or revolutionary ideas, but that’s just the point. Between the unassuming melodies, the gentle instrumentations, and the simple honest lyrics, this album feels like home. “Prom Theme” paints the end of high school bleakly, saying that “soon we’ll say goodbye then we’ll work until we die,” but we can still throw this CD in the stereo and relive the old days, good times and bad. It’s a ritual I wholeheartedly recommend.