"Hackensack" / Fountains of Wayne
Pure pop doesn't get any purer, or poppier, than Fountains of Wayne. They've got the whole package: engaging witty lyrics, hook-laden melodies, and a clean tight sound that makes it all go down like butter. Get one of their songs in your head and it's likely to be in there for days.
The one on my constant replay right now is called "Hackensack," from Welcome Interstate Managers. The New Jersey reference is typical FoW material, but it doesn't really have to be Hackensack; it could be any middle-class suburb. Here's the set-up: The singer is sending this song out to an old girlfriend who is now a minor celebrity, reminding her that "If you ever get back to / Hackensack / I'll be here for you." We kinda know she'll never come back; hey, he kinda knows it too. But a guy can hope, can't he?
He's following her career, wistfully, from afar: "I saw you talkin' / To Christopher Walken / On my TV screen." (Score points just for referring to Christopher Walken.) Then he shyly catches her up on what he's been up to: "I used to work in a record store / Now I work for my dad / Scraping the paint off of hardwood floors / Hours are pretty bad." That's how life slowly closes in on you, isn't it? At least the record store job was fun, but there was no future in it; taking over the family business, now that's a future . . . of sorts. Then why doesn't he sound more excited about it?
This guy is just so sweet, slowly sliding into his middle-class mid-American dead end life. The only thing that keeps a light going for him is the thought of that girl out in L.A. or wherever, who might still remember him. I'll bet she does now; I'll bet in five years she won't. And that's why the refrain is so poignant: "But I will wait for you / As long as I need to / If you ever get back to Hackensack / I'll be here for you." He really shouldn't be waiting for her; he needs to get on with his life. But she gives his life one last glimmer of glamour -- he doesn't want to let go of that, not yet.
This isn't a love song, really. It's a song about modern American discontent; this guy can't be happy in Hackensack, not so long as this phantom girl is out there. What's brilliant is the bouncy light touch FoW uses--that soft drum track ticking along, the hooky guitar line, the slightly flat boyish vocals, those dreamy falsetto back-ups on "I will wait for you." His life is tripping gently along just like this song--it's not horrible, it's just not . . . Special. And we were all promised Special.
FoW does suburban angst better than anybody else (except maybe Ben Folds). What kills me is that all the 20-somethings whose lives they're writing about probably aren't listening to these tunes, they're listening to Amy Winehouse and Justin Timberlake and -- well, I really don't know who, I'm so far off that middle-American wavelength. But they should be listening to Fountains of Wayne, and making these guys the pop stars they deserve to be.