Fountains of Wayne have been the pre-eminent purveyors of power-pop for quite some time now, and they’ve never really gotten “their due”. For such a good band, they’re still only (vaguely) known by the mainstream for “Stacy’s Mom” and it’s unforgettable video. It’s a shame, to a degree, since the band’s come up with (much) better and (much) catchier songs before and after their one “hit”.

It’s been four long years since the Jersey-based band last released an album. Some of the tracks that appear on the just-released Sky Full of Holes have been played live for two years now, so I’m pretty curious as to why it took so long for the album to finally come out. ┬áMy simple (though unfounded) theories are that it may have taken some time for the guys to extricate themselves from their previous label (they’ve transferred from S-Curve to Yep Roc Records) and/or maybe they just wanted to road test the new tunes. Whatever the reason, Sky Full of Holes was easily one of my most anticipated albums of 2011, especially after I heard a couple of the new songs after seeing them in concert for the first time last year.

No matter how long the wait, the fact of the matter is that the album doesn’t disappoint. If you like well-crafted pop/rock music, Sky Full of Holes (the title of which comes from the darker-than-usual song “Cemetery Guns”) will satisfy your needs and then some. Chris Collingwood’s familiar nasal (and always slightly weary-sounding) voice is still perfect for these crazily cinematic (seriously, you could turn a good chunk of Fountains of Wayne songs into short films or sitcom scripts) songs. Chris and his buddy Adam Schlesinger have not lost their talent for great storytelling, whether crafting sweet love songs (“Firelight Waltz”) or name-checking Will Ferrell.

Many critics have noted that the band has dialed down their upbeat power-pop instincts for a sound that’s a bit more subdued. I can’t say that particular assessment is totally accurate. “A Dip in the Ocean” and “Radio Bar” are fairly high-energy singalong type songs that match up well with the best FoW songs, and besides, it’s not like their music has ever suffered just by virtue of their dialing the tempo down. “A Road Song”, one of my favorite tracks on the album, might be at first glance a typical letter to a loved one (oh wait-we’re in 2011-it’s probably an email), but the witty lyrics (not to mention the great harmonies; these dudes listened to a lot of soft-rock radio growing up) are more than enough to turn this most-overused of topics into an essential album track.

If you thought the layoff might have done anything to Fountains of Wayne’s considerable musical and lyrical skills, never fear. Sky Full of Holes is a consistently enjoyable album without even ONE bad song. It’s a little snarky, a little sentimental, but a LOT good. Highly recommended. Just don’t keep us waiting so long next time, guys. OK?

Grade: A

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