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David Styburski
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CD Review: Fountains of Wayne ''Out of State Plates''

Say what you will about Fountains of Wayne. Put them in the same joking category as Barenaked Ladies and Bowling for Soup or call them mere craftsmen of bright power pop. But with “Out of State Plates,” a heap of rarities spanning the group’s brief three-album career, the band displays, not unlike the Rolling Stones with “Tattoo You” and Smashing Pumpkins with “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness,” that its leftovers are as good as many bands’ packaged takes.

On their individual merits, the 30 tracks on the two-disc set are minor ditties that were wisely left off of the consistently rocking and melodic efforts “Utopia Parkway” and, one of 2003’s best records, “Welcome Interstate Managers.” Yet, taken all at once, the collective low-key tunefulness and variety of “Out of State Plates” nurture a degree of charm similar to that of the Beatles’ “White Album,” which Rolling Stone scribe Rob Sheffield has termed “loaded with self-indulgent filler” but a massive work that could never be satisfactorily edited down to one disc because “nobody would pick the same highlights.” Likewise, Fountains of Wayne have released a rare hodgepodge that works precisely because it is such an odd mess.

Some people, for example, might wade through the sea of three-minute pop tunes and develop soft spots for the mix of irony and sadness on “I’ll Do the Driving,” the country sing-a-long cover of Gene Pitney’s “Today’s Teardrops” or the aggressive rock of “Elevator Up.” Others, however, will deem those tracks fluff and prefer the straightforward interpretation of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” the sly wordplay of the magician’s waltz “Half a Woman” or the Cheap Trick-esque chorus of the ludicrous children’s tune “I Want an Alien for Christmas.”

Even on their throwaway songs, writers Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger manage to come up with endearing melodies, and even when they write comical lyrics, like those of “Baby I’ve Changed” about a charitable boyfriend tolerating his girl’s preference for Sugar Ray records, they never seem to force the jokes down listeners’ throats ala Barenaked Ladies, and they always seem to be serving the songs rather than personal agendas packed with contrived cuteness.

Anyone unfamiliar with Fountains of Wayne should start their collections by buying “Utopia Parkway” or “Welcome Interstate Managers.” Anyone who liked those albums will probably enjoy various parts of “Out of State Plates.” At the more consumer-friendly record stores, it’s priced as a single disc and is, if nothing else, a decent offering that ought to keep fans of the band satisfied until Collingwood and Schlesinger get busy selecting the best of their newer three-minute pop songs for another more focused piece of work.

Posted: June 29, 2005 ,   Modified: September 17, 2005

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