I often engage in discussions with other writers on a wide array of topics. Among the pedantic exercises that such people joust about are lists – the ten best this, the three things that, ad infinitum. One of the more challenging questions raised has been which bands have come right out of the chute with a string of killer albums, and when does the slack usually begin to show? In other words, a band whose first album was killer, and then the sophomore slump was avoided, and then it kept on for a bit. And we’re talking albums, not a repackaging of singles in a twelve-inch format (sorry, Beatles!), and in truth the conversation was concerned more with post-60s artists (sorry, Neil Young). Sure, the Police and REM and U2 are supremely popular, but did they really strike gold immediately, then consistently? Even Bruce Springsteen has people on both sides of the fence. When the conversation eventually focused on the last 25 years, the field thinned dramatically.
But even when you go back to the dawn of rock, the magic number seems to be three, maybe four albums at best. We all know the adage that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, and…well, it used to be six months to create their second, but now it’s more like three years. Whatever. Many artists has solid runs but after an unspectacular debut. Some never even got to four albums before imploding. Seems like the majority might have gotten a great two and then hit a speed bump, temporary or otherwise.
Everyone has a personal favorite, of course – you won’t talk a card-carrying Nickleback fan out of arguing to the death that their mulleted posers haven’t recorded a wrong note. Ever. Which is why these things are best done in consensus, lest the water of truly worthy get diluted with the emotions of the moment. You know, like the IMDB list of the greatest films of all time, an inordinate amount which have apparently been released in the past twenty years, some as recently as this month. More whatever.
Which brings me to the subjects at hand – Fountains of Wayne. Maybe the most consistent career-opening salvo since Elvis Costello, in my book. Literate, funny, poignant, incredibly catchy and just off the beaten path enough to avoid the mainstream (“Stacy’s Mom” excepted, of course) but real masters of songcraft, harmony and…well, art. Go listen to their albums if you don’t believe me.
They’ve long had a reputation for being slightly more exciting than moist toast in concert, despite the nature of their music, and I have witnessed some clips that attest to nervousness at best and indifference or boredom at worst. But this 2005 live recording, now available on DVD from Shout, really changed my mind. And the bonus recordings! These stripped down recent studio sessions (as a trio) where they are tracking the songs live – no overdubs – are wonderful. No matter what Robbie Fulks thinks.
Check out my full review in Blurt Online.
That killer 1-2-3-4 punch.