November 16, 1999
Fountains of Wayne (Atlantic Records), 1999.
UTOPIA PARKWAY is the second album from the New Jersey band Fountains of Wayne. Filled with satirical and biting lyrics, the album is what can only be described as "suburban angst." Drawing from their hometown of Wayne, New Jersey, Chris Collingswood and Adam Schlesinger paint a scathing vision of what it's like to be young in the bedroom communities of the northeast.
Having grown up in a similar suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, I can tell you it's a particularly accurate vision of what it's like to grow up middle class in the suburbs without any drive to succeed. Collingswood and Schlesinger put into words the exact mindset of people who never really realize that the world is bigger than the mall.
With infectious pop melodies and driving guitars, the first single, “Utopia Parkway,” sets the tone for the entire album. With lyrics such as "I've been saving for a custom van and I've been playing in a cover band, and my baby doesn't understand why I never turned from boy to man," you realize that Utopia Parkway is just an exit off the New Jersey Turnpike and not a state of mind. Or is it? You can almost hear the contempt the band feels for the conspicuous consumption of “Valley of the Malls,” the short-sightedness of youth in “Red Dragon Tattoo,” and the selfish sitcom version of love in “Troubled Times.”
With the help of the guitars of Jody Porter and the drumming of Brian Young, Collingwood and Schlesinger paint a modern portrait of this 90's version of Peyton Place and its Stepford children. You realize early on that if you'd known, "you'd never want to go to Amity Garden again." This contempt culminates with “Prom Theme,” a song about people whose whole lives peak in high school. The ironic thing is that some high school somewhere will probably chose this for their Prom theme. And why not? Fountains of Wayne are never pompous enough to think that they are better or smarter than their subjects, only more insightful. They are excellent musicians and extremely talented songwriters who write what they know and have a clear vision of the world around them. But more importantly they never take themselves or their subjects too seriously, and that makes the journey down UTOPIA PARKWAY well worth the drive.
-- Thomi Sharpe