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I know, here I am once again flogging New Jersey’s Fountains of Wayne, a band I pushed at you before, with their wonderful song of broken romance, Troubled Times.  I adore them, though I suppose there’s nothing revolutionary about FOW, except within the context of today’s popular music. Led by songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, this group hewed to the old values of pop: have a hook; make the melody memorable; do the odd unexpected thing to keep ‘em interested; emphasize harmonies; tell a memorable story; be disciplined. These guys would have been right at home in the Brill Building, sitting next to Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach and Carole King, cranking out hits for the masses. They ought to have been one of the most popular bands on the scene. They weren’t though, and now they’re no longer together.

Like everybody else in popular music, they sang often about romance and its entanglements, but there’s always something unusually poignant about FOW’s “relationship” songs. You won’t find many about the unmitigated joy of first love, or the rush of infatuation. It always seems to be about going separate ways, doubts, regrets, unrequited feelings, anything but boy meets girl and happily ever after.

A few of them, like Kid Gloves, involve one lover’s urge to get out of New York City, the light, noise and pressures of the Big Apple standing in metaphorically for the overwhelming emotions that nobody wants to confront. In that song we’re presented with a guy who doesn’t want to be treated like damaged goods any more – or is he just afraid that she can see right through him and knows that indeed, he is damaged goods? Or is he more frustrated at how she handles him with such reticent care that he can’t really talk to her about anything that smacks of honest emotion? Either way, it seems, time to bail out.

Here is what I have found

New York just gets me down

When the going got tough

I got a bus ticket

back to my home town

All the way there I dreamed

flesh wrapped in velveteen

And the road wrapped around me

The long lonely highway

gulped down by a Greyhound

Not exactly moon / June / spoon. Such lovely music, the cello, the piano, the slow swinging cadence of the verses, ach!  I love it!

No Better Place is almost the flip side of the same story, with the narrator now being the one left behind in NYC, wondering what’s so great about this other place where his girlfriend would apparently rather be. Of course, what’s so great about it is that he’s not there, a thought that one does best to suppress at such times. Again with the fabulous melody and gorgeous melancholy of the sentiments – these are lyrics that really sting:

Is that supposed to be your poker face

or was someone run over by a train?


From the C Train to the shiny tower

kicked around ’til happy hour found you

where you could drink

that smirk right off your face


The bourbon sits inside me

right now I am a puppet in its sway

And it may be the whiskey talking

but the whiskey says I miss you every day

So I taxi to an all night party

park me in the corner in an old chair

Sip my drink and stare off into space

 Now she’s leaving New York

for no better place

…and most moving, this little vignette in the middle eight, the narrator looking through his transparent image reflected in a shop window and feeling every bit as insubstantial as his ghostly mirror-self:

Here is your reflection in a building uptown

a ghost inside some Madison Avenue display

Like water under bridges you’re slowly passing by

as you sail between the rooftops and the sky

This hits me right in the sweet spot.

I sure do miss them.

3 comments on “Songs of the Day: Fountains of Wayne – No Better Place; Kid Gloves

  1. Kunga Shiwa & the Search for Enlightenment says:

    Damn I didn’t even know. I love these guys. Remember that time we were playing No Better Place, when the middle 8 grabbed your attention: “not like the usual cacophany coming up from the basement”. Indeed. Fountains of Tragiclly Neil ride again tonight!


  2. graemecoffin says:

    I do remember, and though I’d heard FOW and I think even owned an album by virtue of Radiation Vibe, it was hearing your rendition that made me want to really dig into their endlessly rewarding catalogue.


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