Title: Bright Future in Sales
Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Album: Welcome Interstate Managers
I've read that Fountains of Wayne were an amazing cover band, specializing in the same melodic power pop they currently create. But even though they were no doubt influenced by the bands they cut their teeth to, they managed to develop their own sound. With Welcome Interstate Managers, however, it seems like they just decided to wear their influences right on their sleeves almost to the point of being derivative. In some ways, this makes the album weaker, perhaps lacking the originality of their debut and sophomore efforts. But as a case study in how to write songs just like your heroes, it's pretty fascinating. (I know it sounds like I'm being critical—I actually really like the album a lot, but when I want to listen to Fountains of Wayne, I tend to reach for Fountains of Wayne (1996). And when I want to listen to The Cars, I listen to The Cars—not "Stacy's Mom.")
I chose to feature "Bright Future in Sales" because I'm always impressed with songs that are built around guitar riffs since I'm so bad at doing it myself. "Stacy's Mom" was the big hit from the album and is an obvious tribute to The Cars. Other songs on the record pay homage to The Beatles (the opening riff to "No Better Place" sounding like "Ticket to Ride"), Jackson Browne ("Valley Winter Song"), Paul Simon ("Hey Julie"), maybe Glen Campbell ("Hung Up On You"). Listen to the whole record and every song will have you saying "Who does this sound like?!"
So how about "Bright Future in Sales"? To me, this sounds like "In the Street" by Big Star but maybe though the lens of Cheap Trick. Either way, it's a superior song, with Fountains of Wayne bringing their too-clever-for-their-own-good lyrics and killer hooks to the chorus. But how vastly different is the subject matter! Big Star sings about the mundanity of teen life on the suburban streets of the 1970s while FOW sings about a frequently soused corporate business traveler of the 2000s. Kind of an odd subject and certainly less relatable than the Big Star track (which is probably why Big Star tends to connect more frequently on an emotional level). Still, a great little riff and a fun rocker from one of my favorite bands.