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Denise/I Know You Well/I’ll Do the Driving
July 20th, 2011 by NumberSix

Insert for Fountains of Wayne's "Denise" CD single

Insert for Fountains of Wayne's "Denise" CD single

Fountains of Wayne was formed by songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, who met as freshman at Williams College. The two began playing in bands together in the 1980s until they went their separate ways, with Schlesinger forming Ivy in New York City and Collingwood forming Mercy Buckets in Boston. The two met up once again in the mid-1990s and formed a band together. Schlesinger sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar, and Collingwood played bass. They also recruited Joey Porter (lead guitar) and Brian Young (drums). They eventually settled on the name Fountains of Wayne, the name of a lawn ornament store at the intersection of Routes 46 and 23 in Wayne, New Jersey. The band signed with Atlantic Records and released their self-titled debut album in October 1996. Two of the songs from the album, “Radiation Vibe” and “Sink to the Bottom”, received airplay. The band toured extensively in support of the album; in the meantime, Schlesinger had written the title song for the movie “The Thing You Do!”, for which he received an Oscar nomination. The band’s second album, “Utopia Parkway”, was released in April 1999; it was well-received, but the band was dropped by Atlantic Records when sales failed to meet expectations. In May 1999, the band released the first single from “Utopia Parkway”: “Denise”/”I Know You Well”/”I’ll Do the Driving”. This is today’s featured single.

“Denise” opens with a catchy guitar riff, and soon we are in the middle of what is perhaps the prototypical Fountains of Wayne song: a song with an infectious melody, an over-the-top “sha-la-la-la” chorus, and rather silly lyrics (although there are other power pop bands that match or exceed the technical proficiency of Fountains of Wayne, I dare say that few could rhyme “Lexus” and “Texas” with equal aplomb), and a mini-guitar solo that is as compelling as anything you’ll find in similar power pop songs. While some critics will find that the band’s sense of detachment prevents them from achieving greatness, I find it one of the band’s great strengths, and while their lyrical content may not be ponderous at all, they have absorbed the clich├ęs of the genre and have achieved and unusually adept synthesis of it. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Denise” (although they did come close to reaching this level with “Stacy’s Mom” a few years later).

“I Know You Well” is a non-album track, a pleasant piece of jangle pop which Schlesinger’s lead vocals complements well. Per usual, the band’s lyrics have an unusual fluidness, so that whether or not there is any real depth to them is incidental to your enjoyment of the track. Is Schlesinger singing about an actual relationship when he sings about “New York 1991” or not? Does it really matter? It doesn’t for this aficionado of power pop. This song also boasts some rather good backing vocals. While this probably won’t be of interest to casual fans, this is a solid song. It can be found on the “Out of State Plates” double CD compilation released in 2005.

“I’ll Do the Driving”, on the other hand, is a song that I found to be one of the band’s most humorous tracks, so it’s a shame they did not include this on a full-length CD. Starting off with Young’s drums, soon accompanied by an acoustic guitar, the song tells the tale of an airhead girl (my personal favorite is: “We’re out, the jukebox plays “Jumping Jack Flash”/She says, “I love Johnny Cash, the man in red”/I turn my head and pretend not to hear what she said”). Most people have encountered people like this (at least I have), which makes this song all the funnier. Like “I Know You Well”, this song can be found on “Out of State Plates”.

This single was issued on Atlantic Records in May 1999. The CD insert is shown in the picture above. After the release of “Utopia Parkway”, Fountains of Wayne went on hiatus, with the band members pursuing other projects. In 2001, they reunited, recording a cover version of “Better Things” for a Kinks tribute album and recording the theme song for the Comedy Central series “Crank Yankers”. The band signed with S-Curve Records (with Virgin Records handling distribution in the U.K.). In 2003, the band released its third album, “Welcome Interstate Managers”, which contained the surprise hit “Stacy’s Mom”. The band recorded an appearance on “Austin City Limits” in December 2003. In June 2005, the band released “Out of State Plates”, a compilation of B-sides and previously unreleased tracks. “Traffic and Weather”, their fourth studio album, followed in April 2007. The band’s fifth studio album, “Sky Full of Holes”, will be released in on Yep Roc Records in North America on August 2, 2011.

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