Lou Reed may be the New York Man, but only a fraction of his New York fans have any direct experience with the Downtown demimonde he writes about. Most are Tri-State suburbanites who as kids went to Manhattan to party and as adults go there to work.
Their imperfect lives of privilege receive more direct attention from Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, the singing-songwriting team known as Fountains of Wayne. On the their third album, “Welcome Interstate Managers,” the duo move beyond short stories of adolescent yearning among the subdivisions to more adult themes, but without losing their taste for sweet radio-ready pop. The white-collar orcs who stumble through the album’s tales of urban angst and suburban lassitude can’t understand why life isn’t as good as their guidance counselors told them it would be. A self-assured Wall Street type drinks his way uptown, wondering how his lover would willingly leave New York “for no better place.” A novice account executive with “a new computer and a bright future in sales” wakes up hung over in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In other words, they’re either losers in love who wait in vain for the “little red light” to blink on their message machines, or losers at work who can never “get the numbers to add up right.”
By expanding their ’60s pop palette to include psychedelia, country and light jazz, FoW also expand the scope of their stories. The languor floating through “Fire Island” mirrors that delicious feeling of freedom when a teenager realizes that someday he will be able to live away from his parents. The best song, “All Kinds of Time,” is nothing more than a reverie on a slow-motion football replay, where we travel outward from the thoughts in the quarterback’s head to an entire nation watching him “on wide-screen TV,” while James Iha’s guitar soars into the sky, following the metaphoric pigskin toward its target. Whether it gets there we aren’t told. Like good pop singles, life is only perfect 2 1/2 minutes at a time.