A new, indelible cast of characters is inducted into the FOW pantheon of stars on Traffic And Weather: Yolanda Hayes, a sullen object of affection behind the glass at the Department Of Motor Vehicles; Seth Shapiro and Beth Mackenzie, two lonely, hardworking New Yorkers who cross paths - sort of - in "Someone To Love" (which features Hole/Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur singing backing vocals); the exhausted couple in "Michael and Heather At The Baggage Claim", dragging themselves onto an airport shuttle bus after a long trip; newscasters in heat in the album's title track, and many others. Hapless protagonists like the suspicious boyfriend of "This Better Be Good" and the hit-man target in "Strapped For Cash" are also classic Fountains Of Wayne narrators. Travel and transportation continue to figure heavily in the on-the-go world of FOW. The guy who buys himself a "'92 Subaru" is convinced that the right pimped-out ride is all he needs to get the girl; in the Beatlesque "i-95" a driver explores a rest area gift shop late at night, on the way to visit his loved one; we hear of "an eerie kind of sadness on the highway today" in the Gram Parsons-tinged "Fire In The Canyon" (featuring backing vocals by the Candy Butchers' Mike Viola, who was the voice of "That Thing You Do"). The misery of sitting in coach on a delayed flight is examined in the wistful waltz "Seatbacks And Traytables" (which contains a guest appearance on guitar by James Iha). And in the semi-epic "New Routine", we follow a series of characters who each randomly pick a new place to live, only to discover someone else there who can't wait to move away.
Punctuated by 2005's sprawling compilation of B-sides and outtakes (Out-of-State Plates
), a nearly four-year interval between fresh recordings has done nothing to tarnish Fountain of Wayne's pop-drenched songwriting tandem of Chris Collingswood and Adam Schlesinger. This 14-song bash is a late-'60s/early-'70s time warp that exploits every facet of the pop action plan (chiming guitars, infectious choruses, sinful harmonies) and begs for radio play. As usual, the band never takes itself too seriously, crafting melodies around a lively, vigorous cast of characters that practically come to life. There's a DMV attendant who can't shake our attention (the bouncy, piano-boosted "Yolanda Hayes"), an airport-stranded couple waiting impatiently for lost luggage (the folksy "Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim"), and ex-lovers who blame it on the highway ("Fire in the Canyon," which explores the radio country-rock of the Eagles and America). They sing of an old-model Japanese car to get the girl ("'92 Subaru") and Renee seeing you "at the Gap in a baseball cap" ("This Better Be Good"), and any way they shake it, even after a too-long interruption, Collingswood and Schlesinger rarely miss the mark. --Scott Holter