Sound — 7
It's surprising how similar Fountains of Wayne are to Weezer. Both have recently made the change from major to indie labels (FoW just signing to Yep Roc), both began as more fuzzy power pop geeks before polishing up their sound. And similarly, after 2007's disappointing Traffic and Weather, FoW had to deliver the goods with Sky Full of Holes, their first for four long years, and after much delays, it's finally here. The acoustic tour in 2009 served as a decent pre-cursor to Sky...'s general sound; more acoustic than electric, the songs still rollick by pleasantly, but with less of the bite in songs such as 'Survival Car' and 'Denise'. However, there is a slight drop in pace from recent albums, the tracks more relaxed, more stately and more introspective. Tracks like 'Hate To See You Like This' and 'Cold Comfort Flowers' are both poignant acoustic numbers. Luckily, opener 'The Summer Place' is one of their best songs, a jaunty rocker with an anthemic chorus, whilst lead single 'Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart' has all the qualities of a classic FoW track. For anyone wanting a point of reference, their 2007 track 'Fire in the Canyon' would be a suitable indicator, but there's also plenty of keyboards and piano overdubs. The album is rather too polished, as is the problem with FoW lately, but the songs hold their own.
Lyrics — 6
The band's principal songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger have always had a gift for writing about the obsurd and the tragically comedic, and 'Sky Full of Holes' has a few, but is mainly a more mature set of tracks, dealing with the passing of time, war and love rather than the little details they previously focused on. Opener 'The Summer Place' has a typically intriguing set of lyrics dealing with the six week escape, and with an irresistable chorus, and the seriousness of 'Cold Comfort Flowers' and closer 'Cemetery Guns' show the four-piece can do pathos with confident aplomb. However, there is far too much a dependence on 'oooohs' and 'whoaas' in many tracks, from '.....Heart', 'Action Hero' and the awful 'Richie & Ruben', and it alas seems evident where they could have been a knockout chorus, there's merely filler.
Overall Impression — 7
Sky Full Of Holes is an enjoyable, if slightly frustrating, listen. It's certainly a more mature and all-knowing affair, and when the band get it right, on the country tinged 'Road Song' and 'Acela', it works to their credit, they're growing as artists and it's commendable. But the bombastic 'Radio Bar' and 'Richie & Ruben' would never make a FoW B-side in 1996, and there's a much missed lack of the old school power pop that made them a joy back in the day. Perhaps similar to Teenage Fanclub, maybe we should accept the rock is slowly fading for a more mid-paced AOR, but it's not a bad thing, it's just middling. FoW fans should be pleased, and it's certainly a decent effort, but it lacks enough punch to make it truly essential. Not their best, but far from their worse, and the tour will certainly be something to look forward to. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: 'The Summer Place', 'Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart', 'Hate To See You Like This'