Spins

Fountains of Wayne, Rich Boy and Chris Knight

Traffic and Weather

Fountains of Wayne

Virgin

Maybe Fountains of Wayne knew they had made a near-perfect power-pop album with 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers. Could some follow-up-itis have contributed to the four years between that triumph and Traffic and Weather, which hit the shelves last week? With the new one, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood prove that they can still pen strong hooks, still harmonize exquisitely, still spin über-witty lyrics — but, in the end, Traffic and Weather is a disappointment, mostly because it's not Welcome Interstate Managers.

For starters, the melodies — paramount in power-pop — don't quite stack up. Also, the production has, in a number of places, gone from slick to synthetic. The overall sound smacks of computer processing and sonic compression. The rhythm tracks just don't have as much punch as those on Interstate.

The lyrics, while largely a marvel of rhyme-craft and wordplay ("he talks his way inta/ A job at La Quinta") have in spots gone from clever to cutesy. Whereas Interstate offered an over-arching commentary about the soul-deadening effects the corporate world can have on 20-somethings, Traffic and Weather homes in on life's minutiae, piles on pop-culture references and gives us common-folk characters that are not always compelling. Basically, the words come off as clever for clever's sake.

All that said, it doesn't seem sporting to penalize Fountains of Wayne for not being able to surpass a masterpiece. Traffic and Weather keeps them solidly in place as the preeminent power-pop band of the last decade, and it's pretty much a must-have for any fan of the genre. 3 stars —Eric Snider

Rich Boy

Rich Boy

Zone 4/Interscope

Just when you think mainstream hip-hop couldn't dip any lower, here comes the self-titled debut from Rich Boy. The mush-mouthed rapper from Mobile, Ala., scored a big hit this winter with a brain-dead ode to Dayton Wire Wheels called "Throw Some D's." The single is here along with the requisite remix, which is bolstered by some verbiage from Andre 3000, who even in sleepwalk mode outshines Rich Boy and guests like Nelly and The Game. But that one verse from Outkast's artsy half is about all there is to recommend on this collection of waste that is so riddled with clichés it almost works as satire. "Gangsta Mack," "Get to Poppin" and "Gangsta" are among the lame, woefully derivative titles assigned to these forgettable rhymes about the joys of cash money, easy women and big cars. When Rich Boy — reportedly a Tuskegee University dropout — thoughtlessly brags about his street-cred, it's laughable, and when he boasts for the umpteenth time about his highly accessorized Caddy, it's downright annoying. It's as if the star of the show is going through the motions — posturing, posing, pushing a menacing facade — solely to get paid. Sorry, not buying. Yeah, the album benefits from nifty beats courtesy of co-producer Polow da Don (Fergie, Ludacris), but it's not nearly enough to salvage this clown act. 1 star —Wade Tatangelo

The Trailer Tapes

Chris Knight

Drifter's Church

There are few experiences more rewarding than hearing a singer on the cusp of fame — when his talents are already realized but recognition is still just out of reach, when passion, frustration and hunger fuel every performance. That's singer/songwriter Chris Knight on The Trailer Tapes. The near-legendary (in certain circles, at least) collection of 12 homemade recordings was cut in '96, about two years before Knight's self-titled debut album made him a major player on the burgeoning Americana scene. It finds the native of a poor Kentucky mining town alone with just his guitar and demons. It is a bleak yet beautiful set of tales about folks stuck in the South. Abused wives, gun-toting bullies and bank robbers walk the dusty roads and everybody is looking for redemption — making this album a highly recommended listen for fans of Springsteen's Nebraska. 3 stars —WT

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