Fountains of Wayne

Traffic and Weather (Virgin)

It's been four years since Fountains of Wayne's last studio album, but the wait has been more than worth it, because FOW produces incredibly well-constructed pop. Besides a gift for hummable melodies, the group's bite-size vignettes of middle-class angst (think John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom) reveal a novelist's eye for detail. This ensures a three-dimensionality most pop songs lack; from pimping a "'92 Subaru" to hitting on the DMV clerk ("Yolanda Hayes"), they rarely fail to deliver a fresh take.

The album takes on an '80s air at times, including the slinky "Strapped for Cash," whose horns sound nabbed from Genesis' Abacab, and the title track, a funky rock strut that recalls Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry." Sometimes it all comes too easily: The guitar-driven anomie of "Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim" echoes a number of prior tracks, such as "Hackensack" off the last album. But when the band hits—about 75 percent of the time—it's a fine score.

 
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