There's a dreamy summer breeze wafting through much of Sky Full of Holes, as though Fountains of Wayne wanted to make its new album synch up with the season. And, just as this summer has been hotter than many recent ones, there's also a warm intensity to many of the songs, such as the album's first single, "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart."
The 13 tracks on Sky Full of Holes are consistent pleasures in the manner we've come to expect from Fountains of Wayne: precisely worded, catchy songs about small moments in life that can be breezy and witty, as well as breezy, witty and poignant. The band's biggest hit, 2003's "Stacy's Mom" — a winking foray into broad, slightly coarse humor — holds the same place in Fountains of Wayne's career as "Dead Skunk" does in Loudon Wainwright III's, or as "Short People" did in Randy Newman's — a fluke there was no reason to try and replicate, and thus the musicians went back to their clever business. Like "Richie and Ruben," a song on Sky Full of Holes about a couple of on-the-make entrepreneurs who aren't nearly as smart as they think they are.
You could say that "Richie and Ruben" is Fountains of Wayne's Steely Dan song — cynical about subjects that merit cynicism, presenting a narrator who thinks he's tough-minded but might be one of the suckers that Richie and Ruben have scammed in the past.
One of the prettiest songs on the album is "A Road Song," about a guy in a rock band on tour who's missing his loved one so much, he's writing her a song. Its beauty is enhanced by the precision of its meter and rhyme.
At one point in "A Road Song," Chris Collingwood sings, "I bought you a light blue T-shirt last night / from some band I couldn't stand but their logo's all right." That couplet is wry and sweet, and I admire the little internal rhyme of "light" and "night" in the first line. But what clinches its fineness is the way it captures something that happens in everyday life but is rarely noted: People do make purchases such as a souvenir T-shirt just because it looks good. More overt is the wistful sarcasm a bit later, when the narrator describes his "road song" by singing, "I know it's not what you'd call necessary / and I know that I'm no Steve Perry." For Fountains of Wayne fans, Journey is definitely an irony-inducer. In a less fraught, knotty way, the band is probably the only rock act who would write a song about riding Amtrak's priciest train, the Acela, and get all the details of rail travel, both tedious and blissful, correct.
Fountains of Wayne is loathe to make music cast as grand tragedy or melodrama. But at least a couple of times here, Collingwood and Schlesinger capture a mood of quiet despair — in "Action Hero," about a hapless suburban dad, and "Hate to See You Like This," in which the narrator tries to cajole a young woman out of her listless depression.
Fountains of Wayne is without doubt the finest contemporary pop-rock band in America, and that and 99 cents will get you a Lady Gaga download. Collingwood and Schlesinger occasionally pursue separate projects. Collingwood, who likes country music, reportedly has a solo album in the works, while Schlesinger has continued his interest in Broadway by co-writing the opening song on this past year's Tony Awards, "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore," performed by host Neil Patrick Harris. And jolly good for them, as long as it means the twosome will continue to regroup for more, refreshed Fountains of Wayne-iness.