Fountains Of Wayne singer/guitarist Chris Collingwood just released his first solo album, Look Park (Yep Roc). After writing more than 100 songs and recording them on his own following an extensive FOW tour, he went into the studio with producer/keyboardist Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Crowded House), bassist Davey Faragher (Lucinda Williams, Cracker) and drummer Michael Urbano (Ron Sexsmith, Todd Rundgren) and came out with a 10-track stunner that’s perfect for late-summer listening. Given his incredible knowledge of good music, we asked Collingwood for some MAGNET Feedback on songs both new and old.
Courtney Barnett, “Depression” from: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
I know nothing about Ms. Barnett’s process, but it sounds to me like she starts with a bunch of words and sets them to music. Some of them are gloriously trashy and others more reflective. Either way, just like Morrissey, it’s about the personality, and she had a full-blown star quality from the get-go. “Depreston” is a pretty song with fantastic little details like a Wallace Stevens poem. Alongside her other material, a lot of which is coolly detached, the melody has a vulnerable, confessional quality that stands out. It’s a beautiful slice-of-life song that I wish I had written.
Winterpills, “Celia Johnson” from: Love Songs
Full disclosure: Philip from Winterpills has been my friend since 1998, and he and his wife, Flora, appear on the Look Park record. Winterpills are an institution here in Northampton, Mass. They’ve put out six pretty fantastic albums, highlighted by Philip’s impressionistic lyrics and the otherworldly pairing of Philip and Flora’s voices. “Celia Johnson” is an upbeat minor-key number that I don’t have a reference point for—maybe like the Hollies singing a psychedelic Simon & Garfunkel song? It’s insanely catchy, and the rest of Love Songs is solid, thoughtful pop.
Electric Light Orchestra, “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” from: Eldorado
I complain a lot about Jeff Lynne and made some enemies on Twitter the other night when I said he made me hate music. That was a joke, a bad one, and it was in the context of saying how much I liked the new ELO album. What bothered me was what he did to Tom Petty. Petty was my childhood hero, and he did “Refugee.” It was powerful and transcendent, and Lynne reduced him to a quarter-note-plucking near-copy of ELO that sounded complacent and bored. Then he did the same thing to George Harrison and Paul McCartney. Still, there’s a lot of fantastic ELO songs, and “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” would be fucking great even if it was recorded on an iPhone. We used to cover it live, much heavier, and Fountains Of Wayne put a version from some European festival on our b-sides record.
Alvvays, “Archie, Marry Me” from: Alvvays
Call it a shortcoming, but when I hear big, sloppy guitars and arena reverbs, the part of my brain that processes the words sometimes shuts off. I’ve thought about this, and I think it’s because a lot of that kind of music is meant to hit you viscerally, and what the singer’s saying isn’t as important as the kick drum and the attitude. I was wrong not to pay attention to this song’s words because they’re very clever. It’s a simple idea, but between the gigantic choruses, it’s about Archie’s student loans and sailing and bread makers. Plus, the video has a dreamy throwback vibe that reminded me of the early days of MTV.
The Hollies, “Look Through Any Window” from: Hear! Here!
This song was co-written by Graham Gouldman, who over the course of his career had his name on many great songs, including “Bus Stop,” the Hollies number that Fountains Of Wayne covered for the TV show American Dreams. He also wrote “No Milk Today,” a Herman’s Hermits song that I’ve always wanted to cover but haven’t gotten around to. Then all those great songs with 10cc, like “I’m Not In Love” and “The Things We Do For Love.” The Hollies were a big influence on me, but it all happened when I was very young, and somehow I never learned much about their complicated history. I don’t think I realized “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was the Hollies until I was in college. In my defense, it doesn’t sound at all like the same band. “Look Through Any Window” has the distinction of being hooky and memorable while being about absolutely nothing.
PPL MVR, “People Mover” from: PPL MVR
A friend shared the video for this song, and it was like I was 10 again and watching the Kiss amusement-park movie. There’s three guys in monster outfits playing a riff so heavy that when they stomp, the camera shakes. And they shoot lasers out of their eyes, and there’s a hamster running in the kick drum. It actually inspired me to wire up the TV doohickey so my wife could watch it on a big screen in surround sound. We played it a bunch of times, and then one day it was gone from YouTube and the only trace of the band was an Instagram account with a few mysterious photos. I still have no idea who they are or where they went, but one day the video resurfaced, along with an EP, and I was overjoyed. What a great song. I could never write anything this kick-ass.
Lana Del Rey, “Shades Of Cool” from: Ultraviolence
I told my manager I really liked Lana Del Rey, and he looked at me like I had five heads. But in the category of “invent a persona and play it to the hilt,” she wins Best Actress. The video for this song looks like a David Lynch movie, which is the closing of some kind of metaphysical loop. It would all be just a great shtick, but the melody is an instant classic, and her delivery is spine-tingling.
Dinosaur Jr, “Just Like Heaven” from: You’re Living All Over Me
I see J Mascis in the supermarket sometimes. He bought a car at Northampton Volkswagen and then posed for a picture with the car salesman for the dealer’s Facebook page. It went viral, maybe only among my Northampton friends, because J is King Of The Pioneer Valley. I like this cover, especially the part before the bridge where they shout for no reason. I always thought that, all else being equal, and to be truthful, J’s and Robert Smith’s voices aren’t that far apart. The Cure version is a little precious and needed a kick in the ass. We did some shows with Dinosaur Jr once, and I’ve had a high-pitched squeal in my left ear ever since.
The Beatles, “Back In The U.S.S.R.” from: The White Album
I did a benefit a few years ago where various artists did the whole White Album in order. It’s such a strange album, a big jumble of disorganized ideas that sounds like it could be five different albums by four different bands. I love the Beatles, and I love The White Album, but that’s because it’s a giant part of my life and I haven’t heard it objectively since I was a child. I realized during that show how long it had been since I put on “Honey Pie” or “Savoy Truffle” or “Revolution 9.” I think “Back In The U.S.S.R.” sounds like a Beatles song from before this album—limited in lyrical scope and similar in arrangement to the songs on Rubber Soul or Revolver, with a nod to the Beach Boys. I opened the show with it, in front of just about the most cracking backup band I’ve ever heard. I told my friends that playing with that many amazing musicians behind me felt like piloting a 747.
Norah Jones, “Miriam” (Peter Bjorn And John Remix) from: Little Broken Hearts (original version)
In this song, the narrator is on her way to murder her husband’s lover. The lovely original is arranged with dark, faraway drums, piano and silky keyboard pads, which give it a haunting, ominous feel. The Peter Bjorn And John remix of the same song has more in common with the Bay City Rollers: bubblegum guitar riffs, a bouncing kick drum and lots of hand claps. I guess these things are common these days, with the mashups and all that, and it seems like a guaranteed hit when, say, Ryan Adams covers a Taylor Swift album in the style of the Smiths, or when Sturgill Simpson covers a Nirvana song. We covered a Britney Spears song many years ago, and right away I wished we hadn’t. I’m all for taking a misunderstood gem and presenting it in a more favorable light, but what is it people really like about being smacked in the face with genre stunts? I blame American Idol.