Fountains of Wayne

Here's where my anti-iTunes stance proves out, in the Concept Album about cubicle losers and middle-class yutzes and the forgotten schmoes out there for whom love's still a grade-school daydream 20 years on and satisfaction means keeping the day job you hated in the first friggin' place. All Fountains of Wayne records are more or less about the same thing--the sweet smell of success gone sour, like 10-year-old milk--but here's the masterpiece of the trio, the one on which Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood (the Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb of schmuckdom) figure out how to make losing sound like the winner's payday. The closest thing to victory is the song that turns a football game's slow-mo replay into pop poetry: "He takes a step back/He's under attack/But he knows no one can touch him now," they sing of the QB eluding the hit the boys in Fountains of Wayne songs just keep on taking and taking and taking.

There's the song about how we're all ground up in the wheels of industry ("Mexican Wine," used to gulp down pills and irony), the one about the guy who can't stop drinking long enough to appreciate his day job ("Bright Future in Sales"), the one about the dude who lusts after a M.I.L.F. ("Stacy's Mom"), the one about the guy whose woman gets him through endless days in the cubicle ("Hey Julie") and plenty more about the women who got away--ran away, actually, from the office-space stalkers and clip-on-tie creeps and 9-to-5 nobodies who narrate these songs like exiles from Randy Newman albums sung by Freedy Johnston. And the music, each song catchy as a single but more evocative in context and in order, only ups the ante: You'll sing along to these power-pop songs, just long enough to realize you knew the words before you heard them, proof enough the Fountains have tapped into something deep in the rock-and-roll shallow end.

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