Fountains Of Wayne long ago perfected the art of smuggling satirical truths inside perfect three-minute pop songs. Like the films of Alexander Payne, Fountains Of Wayne's wry, unusually literate power-pop documents the foibles and insecurities of the neurotic middle class in an affectionate but unflinching manner. Overuse has made pop-culture references a degraded currency, but Fountains Of Wayne nails the mundane details that bring characters and stories to life—the television shows, movies, and consumer goods that speak eloquent volumes about the people who embrace them.
It's been four years since Welcome Interstate Managers made Fountains Of Wayne unlikely hit-makers—if only because songs as good as "Stacy's Mom" seldom make it to MTV—but thankfully, little has changed: The loveable losers in Traffic And Weather could easily be the cousins or brothers and sisters of the suburban dreamers documented on previous FOW albums. As always, Fountains Of Wayne has a keen ear for the lies people tell themselves and others to keep the desperation of their lives from sinking in. On "Strapped For Cash," a synth-fueled slice of new-wave perfection, a gambling addict running out of excuses keeps telling people he's "just a little strapped for cash," as if those words form a magical mantra that will make his creditors disappear. "Michael And Heather At The Baggage Claim" illustrates Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingswood's genius for indelibly capturing moments in time that are simultaneously unremarkable and freighted with significance.
Production-wise, Traffic And Weather is polished to a glistening sheen, but the slickness and neat little musical flourishes never threaten to overpower songs that would sound terrific accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar. Traffic And Weather offers vivid little snapshots of characters and places, but in Schlesinger and Collingswood's hands, a snapshot can tell the whole story.