Fans waiting for Fountains of Wayne to finally quit goofing around and release a sonically experimental, brooding collection of "serious music" are just going to have to keep waiting. Luckily, the number of their listeners hoping for anything besides another infectious batch of sunny singalong numbers from Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood, and company is probably about the same as the number of people waiting for the White Stripes to record a smooth jazz record. On the mind-numbingly charming Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains of Wayne do what they do best. And while they reinforce their reputation as the reigning deities of uptempo, big-guitar pop/rock with feel-good anthems like "Mexican Wine," "Bright Future in Sales," "Stacy's Mom," and "Little Red Light," they also continue their proud tradition of mellow yet equally tongue-in-cheek tunes. While their debut album had "Sick Day" and "You Curse at Girls," and Utopia Parkway featured "Prom Theme" and "The Senator's Daughter," Welcome Interstate Managers introduces "Fire Island," a plea to be left home alone when the parents go on vacation, and "All Kinds of Time," perhaps the best (and first) musical interpretation of a slow-motion football replay ever recorded. But the bouncing acoustic guitars of "Hey Julie" are definitely the high point. This time, the one flaw may simply be that the group doesn't know when to say when. Their two previous releases closed with lazy ballads, and this time they build to a perfect finale with "Fire Island." Unfortunately, they follow it with four more songs that add little to the quality of the album. Still, CD players were made with skip buttons for a reason, and too much material is usually preferable to too little. Even without the last four tracks, Welcome Interstate Managers had more than enough pitch-perfect melodies and smile-inducing lyrics to make it a defining album for the summer of 2003. And if that's not your thing, well, maybe some winter they'll finally put out that somber record you've been waiting for.
by Mark Vanderhoff