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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Fountains of Wayne
Out-of-State Plates
Virgin Records

Rating: 6/10 ?

July 27, 2005
Knowing I got this in the mail, I approached my husband on it as he's always enjoyed a good pop song or three. The response he gave was quite telling:

"I'm kind of tired of Fountains of Wayne."

I snickered, "But this one includes their cover of '… Baby One More Time,'" to which he let out a long, low sigh and lamented, "Oh, Fountains of Wayne, do you really have to stoop to that? Wait, maybe you do."

It does say a lot that since the shameless powerhouse of "Stacy's Mom," this once proud semi-secret has to play to the masses with an ill-advised cover, but for those who share the same fear captured in our household poll, fear not. Out-of-State Plates is more a compilation for the tried-and-true FOW fans than the fickle market-drivers - though it is not meant to fully satisfy either. It provides enough not-quite-but-almosts to showcase the band's broad and lasting appeal, but it admittedly doesn't measure up; by showing what's missing it illuminates the reasons we love them in the first place (and vice versa).

That said - as with most B-sides - when it comes down to it, there's a reason these songs didn't make it onto albums. To use a needless French phrase, the most loveable Fountains of Wayne songs do possess a certain je ne sais quois that pushes them over that hair-thin dividing line between "close" and "spot-on." The winners prosper for a reason, and the leftovers cast unflinching light on the moments when it's all there but that indescribable quality.

Perhaps it all boils down to novelty. When you're veterans of this kind of power-pop - which FOW can rightfully claim - you're living in a genre of camp and exaggeration that's lovely for its own sake. "Denise" is both a serious, stunningly-crafted pop song and the exact opposite; with its "woahs" and its "Do you love mes", it's not meant to be taken as particularly complex. Still, it surpasses its sure status as a sheer novelty hit by being intelligently made and sneakily clever. On the surface it may seem like a straight pop tune, but those who find deeper appreciation for unlikely, brilliant singles know that "Denise" and its peers are actually played sideways. Fountains of Wayne find affection and joy in the quirky exploitation of pop's favorite clichés.

This exact fact is why Out-of-State Plates falters when it does: some of the tracks are simply included for compilation's sake - a notion the band makes no bones about with this release - and, as such, they lack the sparkling individuality that helps their A-sides rise above their fated roles. Fountains of Wayne may never be known for depth, but they've always been capable of a certain edge and eccentricity that makes their songs better than just hooks-and-smirks; Out-of-State Plates is no greater than the sum of those parts, a fact only amplified by its random assemblage of singles. It is a nice collectors' piece to keep on your shelf, but don't be surprised if it rarely leaves its place.

On the whole, the wit is too heavy-handed, the melodies aren't quite there - to put it plainly, the balance of zany and capable is never exactly right. Only on "Maureen," the newly created breakout hit made almost exclusively to keep FOW in summer rotation, does the band stay true to their precise guitar-pop formula; the rest show how duly tested that formula is.

Surprisingly, though most of the compilation showcases FOW's more rock-inclined outtakes, the real heroes of the discs are the quiet moments where we are allowed reprieve from all of the over-the-top shenanigans. For every track like the groan-inducing "California Sex Lawyer" - which claims it has the "ch-ch-charisma" but boldly does not - there is a hidden gem like "Karpet King" that may be largely overlooked for its alt-country plainness, but sounds sincere and sweet to grateful ears. Likewise, as the "bah, bah, bahs" of "Janice's Party" smack of distracting amateurism and "You're Just Never Satisfied" and "She's Got a Problem" are too heavy and labored to draw favor, "Trains and Boats and Plains" shimmers unpretentiously with mature, Byrdsish beauty. These dulcet selections are not meant to be the standouts of this clearinghouse effort, and yet they are. Many other tracks try too hard, are too bombastic, too overtly funny or too incomplete to match such soft sanctuary. The effort poured into every cluttering part of "Nightlight" pushes too forcefully; the lack of work on "Imperia" trades its potential to be affecting for the anemic marks of a demo. Both results are tiring. We know in their perfect pop moments, Fountains of Wayne can be inspiring, but Out-of-State Plates proves that in imperfection, they can wear even the most admiring fans out.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters



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