Friday, February 13, 2009

Sink to the Bottom, Come Up Again (Volume 13)

Volume 13 of the 96X Anthology is noteworthy because it lacks noteworthy artists.  Almost the whole volume features one-off singles by bands never heard from again.  So, what stands out amidst the stack of one-hit wonders?  

How about two-hit wonder, Fountains of Wayne?

When "Sink to the Bottom" came out in the fall of 1996, I knew nothing about Fountains of Wayne.  I thought, "hey, another cool single by another faceless band."  In hindsight, it was a perfect little nugget of 90's alt-rock: 
1) Four chords.
2) The quiet-verse into loud-chorus device that Nirvana popularized and perfected.
3) Infectious melody.
4) Lyrics about being down, low, and a loser, and wanting someone to be a loser with.

Perfect!  I didn't need to know the rest of their catalogue, their bio, or their tour dates.  Fountains of Wayne's sole reason for existence was this anonymous single that fit my station's format.  What made 96X so great was how often it spun the Wonderfully Obscure along with the Great and Famous.  "Sink to the Bottom" was, in many ways, what 96X was all about.  I embraced the song, and nodded cooly as the one-hit wonder was never heard from again...

...Until they were completely heard from again, exactly seven years later, with a new record and a massively successful single, "Stacy's Mom."  When the song hit in 2003, I thought, "Fountains of Wayne?  You've got to be kidding me.  I thought they were dead.  I thought I read that somewhere.  I literally thought they had died, like Zack Morris."  Then, out of nowhere, a #1 hit single, even more popular than "Sink to the Bottom."  If someone told me in 1999 that one of 96X's one-hit wonders would rise from the grave and release a #1 record in 2003, I would have never guessed Fountains of Wayne.  I would've guessed Silverchair.  I would've guessed the Toadies.  I would've guessed Tonic.  I might've even guessed Local H.  I never saw Fountains of Wayne coming, but probably I should have.

In retrospect, they were one of the best melodists of the bunch.  "Sink to the Bottom" was build with such pop sensibility, such GenX savvy (ramped up especially in the lyrics), and such melodic facility that it was no fluke.  This was the band that, if they kept kicking around, would do it again.  Sure enough, by 2000, they saw the pop-handwriting on the wall, saw the new decades' fascination with 80's goofiness, saw how incredibly starved the Oughts were for real, infectious pop-rock, and seized the opportunity.  They knocked off "Stacy's Mom," a song so incredibly catchy and obvious it seemed like a cover.  It's "Jesse's Girl" meets "Keep Fishin."  In fact, it's exactly the song Weezer would write if they weren't inhibited/crippled by irony.  It was so ineffectual that it became unavoidable; it was so dumb that it was clearly smart.  And sure, it didn't enrich anyone's life, but it made some very rich.

And somewhere, the guy from Local H is still bound to the floor.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for blogging about this band. They are another hidden treasure of the 90's. A better track on the "Fountains of Wayne" album that held "Sink to the Bottom" is a song called "Radiation Vibe".

Michael said...

I totally forgot FOW existed in the 1990s. A strange sequence of events led to me seeing them live in 2004 at the pyramid. They looked bored the whole show.

keepin' it copacetic,

Chris Milam said...

My brother introduced me to "Radiation Vibe" not long ago! Fun me thinking about Fountains of Wayne again. That, and Rachel Hunter.

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