Fountains of Wayne: The Troubadours of Travel

"Radiation Vibe" was the first Fountains of Wayne song I can remember hearing. Their debut album appeared as I started my freshman year at Kenyon College, and I played it until I'd memorized every drum fill. To my ears, it's just as much of a near-perfect power pop song now as it was 15 years ago. Earlier this month the band released Sky Full of Holes, their fifth studio album, and listening to it this week I realized something about their lyrics. Over time, the theme of travel shows up with greater frequency. 

It stands out more on their second album, Utopia Parkway, but even "Radiation Vibe" hints at a certain longing to move. Maybe it's just a commute, a summer escape from the city (lots of their songs are set in and around New York), or a three-minute chronicle of life on tour, but again and again songwriters Collingwood and Schlesinger return to the subject of travel for their clever compositions. Since these songs also happen to be some of my favorites, I decided to compile a short tracklist that makes my point. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • A Dip in the Ocean (Sample lyric: The waterfront is alight with citronella flame/Tourists flashing the night from the grottoes/And gathering now on the heel-worn planks/For a drunken promenade or a mambo)
  • Acela (Sample lyric: When they called All Aboard/You were nowhere to be found/Though you swore, you were sure/You'd come with me out of town)
  • Fire in the Canyon (Sample lyric: And I'm checking out the roadsigns/Highway hotels/And their air-conditioned cable-ready cold padded cells)
  • I-95 (Sample lyric: They've got most of the Barney DVDs/Coffee mugs and tees/That say Virginia is For Lovers but it's not/Round here it's just for truckers who forgot/To fill up on gasoline/Back up near Aberdeen)
  • New Routine (Sample lyric: Two men sit in the corner of a diner/One of them says I might take a trip to China/It's one of those things we should do before we're too old/Thanks but no thanks, bring me back an egg roll)
  • Trains and Boats and Planes (Sample lyric: Trains and boats and planes are passing by/They mean a trip to Paris or Rome/To someone else but not for me/The trains and boats and planes/Took you away, away from me)
  • No Better Place (Sample lyric: And it's running back and forth inside your mind/Just how that town defined you, dressed you up, painted your face/And now you're leaving New York/For no better place)
  • Bought for a Song (Sample lyric: Tried to take a shuttle to Spain/They kicked me off the plane/I guess I'll go to Japan/It all looks the same when you stump for the man)
  • Utopia Parkway (Sample lyric: I got it made, I got it down/ I am the king of this island town/ I'm on my own, I'm on my way/Down Utopia Parkway)
  • The Valley of Malls (Sample lyric: They drive in Winnebagos from the Everglades/Pulled over by the troopers in the mirror shades/ The Caravan is sorry/The driver has a twenty and change)

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