Song of the Day #1,176: ‘The Summer Place’ – Fountains of Wayne

Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are the Rodney Dangerfield of popular music. Their band, Fountains of Wayne, is often dismissed as a novelty act or a one-hit wonder when actually it is among the smartest, most talented pop outfits around.

Blame ‘Stacy’s Mom,’ the infectious hit single from the band’s 2003 album, Welcome Interstate Managers. That song, and its Rachel Hunter-starring video, struck gold more as a novelty than an example of fine songwriting craft. Never mind that it is an expertly crafted song, and that the album it comes from is chock full of tunes even better than that one.

Welcome Interstate Managers isn’t a perfect album — it’s about four songs too long — but it was the best record released by Fountains of Wayne. Until now. This year’s Sky Full of Holes, the band’s fifth studio album, has now claimed that title.

The songs on Sky Full of Holes don’t have the instant accessibility of Welcome Interstate Managers‘ best tracks — ‘Bright Future in Sales’ or ‘Valley Winter Song,’ say — but there is a consistency of style and substance across these 13 songs that makes it their most fully realized work.

They maintain their knack for drawing fleshed out characters — such as the wannabe entrepreneurs ‘Richie and Ruben’ or the middle-aged sad-sack of ‘Action Hereo’ — and for lending authenticity to their narratives through specific, mundane details.

In ‘Acela,’ named for an Amtrak express train in the northeast U.S., the narrator searches the train station in vain for his girlfriend. “I looked in Hudson News, searched for any sign of you,” he sings, making the first reference to the ubiquitous newsstand that I’ve ever heard in song.

Sky Full of Holes is packed with wonderful moments like that one. The scene set in the beach getaway song ‘A Dip in the Ocean’ is worthy of a short story; ‘Cemetery Guns’ is an anti-war song, accented with funeral drums, where a 21-gun salute shoots the “sky full of holes” of the album’s title; ‘A Road Song’ is reminiscent of the great ‘Hey Julie’ as a simple declaration of love.

Today’s featured track is the album’s opener, and another example of Collingwood and Schlesinger drawing a beautiful character sketch in a 3-1/2 minute pop song. Tell me this track’s protagonist couldn’t be the lead character in an Anne Tyler novel.

She’s been afraid of the Cuisinart since 1977
Now when she opens up the house
Well, she won’t set foot in the kitchen
Her brother’s dating an architect
They’re coming up for the weekend
He never gave her the proper respect
But she still meets the ferry to greet them

Oh, at the summer place
We’ve got the space if you’ve got the time
And the summer place is so far away
It’s another state of mind
Mind, mind, mind

She ran away back in ’78
Just down the beach to the neighbors
They brought her back after sunset
But dad sad “Don’t do me any favors”
Her mom would sit on the patio
She said she needed the sea air
She’d drink a fifth of Seagrams
And then she’d sink down into her deck chair

Oh, at the summer place
We’ve got the space if you’ve got the time
And the summer place is so far away
It’s another state of mind
Mind, mind, mind

At 15 shoplifting
Was the only game she liked to play
At 40 she’s so bored
She thinks about it then decides to pay
And still she can’t help feeling
Those good old days don’t seem so far away (seem so far away)
But since just yesterday

She took a handful of mushrooms
That she got from a surfer
She spent a night in a hospital room
So the doctors could observe her

Oh, at the summer place
We’ve got the space, you should drop on by
At the summer place the injuries fade
But the memories last a lifetime
Lifetime, lifetime, lifetime

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One thought on “Song of the Day #1,176: ‘The Summer Place’ – Fountains of Wayne

  1. Dana says:

    I love their sound. I’m glad to hear that this album is as good or better than Welcome Interstate Managers, as I consider that album to be a true pleasure. Looks like we need to pick this one up.

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