"Seatbacks and Traytables" / Fountains of Wayne
Everybody go out right now and buy this new CD, Traffic and Weather, which hits the stores on Tuesday. I adore Fountains of Wayne, and I know a lot of you out there do too; this new album is just the sort of quirky rumination on modern life and love we've been waiting for.
Since I am getting on a plane tomorrow, this song's haunting me at the moment. While some of the earlier songs on the album are FOW's trademark vignettes of odd lonely characters (like the Kinks Village Green transplanted to New Jersey), this track's a Life on the Road Lament -- a fairly common rock music theme, of course, but the singer of this one could just as well be a frequent-flying business man as a touring musician.
With that wheezy Dylanesque harmonica starting us off, it's a gentle rootsy waltz with a touch of slide guitar, a plinky little banjo, and an appropriately disaffected lead vocal (is that Adam Schlesinger or Chris Collingwood?). Yet the song's setting is total 2007: "Seatback and traytables up / Stow your newspapers and cups / We're about to touch down / Midwestern town / Through the haze." The town could be Oklahoma, could be Santa Barbara; they both look vaguely familiar -- and at this point, our frequent flyer doesn't even really care. What's really on his mind is the weird limbo he's in, that in-transit routine: "Seatbacks and traytables please / Suddenly I can't feel my knees / Second-run movies / In-flight shopping magazines / Wheeze in the air up there / Got me a backache somewhere." Yup, sounds like he's flying coach all right. Who knows where the emergency exits are?
The chorus gets a little more melodic, and plaintive: "Trade one town for another / Delayed now, why did we bother? / X on a calendar square / New city, same stuff / Seatbacks and traytables up." This rueful sense of dislocation, of rootlessness, is a big theme on this new album. I guess it isn't odd that a bunch of guys from New Jersey would be hung up on highways and cars (it's no accident the album is named Traffic and Weather), but tucking this modern traveler's lament into a folky envelope gives it a plangent quality that really resonates with me.
You can always follow this up with the perfect chaser, track 8: "Michael and Heather At The Baggage Claim" (a metaphor for the search for love, of course). Sheesh -- who ever coined the phrase "the friendly skies" must have been crazy.
All the same, I'll go pack now. It's modern life -- what can you do? And anyway, I'll be back in a week.
Seatbacks and Traytables sample