Fountains of Wayne
Traffic and Weather
John Metzger's #6 album for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
Considering the success of Stacy’s Mom, it would have been easy for Fountains of Wayne to rest on its laurels by continuing to crank out charming, if innocuous, power-pop melodies while stuffing as many cultural references as possible into its ironic tales of love, loss, and life. In fact, it initially appears as if all that the group has accomplished with its latest endeavor Traffic and Weather was to take a step to the side. Throughout the set, name brands (Dell, La Quinta), television shows (The King of Queens, Barney), and fellow artists (Coldplay, Guns N Roses) drift by at a rapid pace — even faster than normal — and it subsequently becomes impossible not to wonder if the insidious product placement process that so egregiously has infected the television and film landscapes now has taken aim at the music business. None of this, of course, is new to Fountains of Wayne’s bag of tricks, but as the album progresses, the reason for the ensemble’s over-the-top marketing immersion is made apparent, far more so than it has been in the past.
Much as its title suggests, Traffic and Weather’s characters are in a constant state of motion, though they never seem to reach the destinations that they need for their own emotional well-being. Despite the perkiness of Fountains of Wayne’s pop-oriented arrangements, an aching sense of loneliness dominates the endeavor, and the missed opportunities for a meaningful relationship seem to pile up like bodies in a war zone. On the Ben Folds Five-invoking melancholia of I-95, a yearning to close the gap between lovers is interrupted by a wayward vehicle; during the laid-back, country-rock of Fire in the Canyon, a couple is lost and adrift, unable to find the sense of connection that initially had brought them together; and within the synth-heavy Strapped for Cash — which contains odes to Billy Joel ("heart attack-ack-ack-ack") and Tom Petty ("don’t you know I wouldn’t do you like that") — a loser tries to pay off his bookie with what presumably is a maxed-out credit card.
The cultural nods that are tucked into every nook and cranny of Traffic and Weather are, in effect, the touchstones of life in middle America. They are the tangible objects that people tend to accumulate, the empty spaces that distract them from finding true companionship. On ’92 Suburu, for example, an old car is tricked out with a plasma screen television and a GPS system in the misguided belief that such accouterments somehow will bring love. Whether taken literally or as metaphors for the digital noise that surrounds the experiences of a 21st century existence, the notions of traffic and weather that repeatedly are encountered throughout the aptly titled effort stand for those things that divide two people and keep them from finding fulfillment.
To drive home the point that these pursuits ought not to be ones on which western civilization is focused, Fountains of Wayne cleverly uses its music as a means of pushing its overworked, hyper-stressed characters in the right direction. Within the encounter depicted in Yolanda Hayes, the band smashes together The Beatles’ Getting Better and Got to Get You into My Life; during the cinematic vignette Someone to Love, it invokes the atmosphere of a late-night dance club; and by immersing the title track in sounds swiped straight from Genesis’ Abacab, it tries to shatter the illusion of interrelated identities that has infiltrated the modern age.
Each song on Traffic and Weather is undeniably a standalone entity. Yet, when the album is viewed from a broader perspective, the underlying theme that runs through all 14 of its tracks is so single-minded that it becomes impossible to miss, and the identifiable details that adorn each story give the entirety of the effort a powerful resonance. There’s nothing novel about Traffic and Weather; there’s nothing that can be dismissed quite so easily as Stacy’s Mom. Fountains of Wayne has matured considerably, and rather than gradually fading into the sunset, it has lived up to its own hype by creating an outing that can withstand close scrutiny.
Of Further Interest...
Traffic and Weather is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box