Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fountains of Wayne -- "Radiation Vibe" (1996)

Smart ass rock grew like weeds in the mid-90's. These are bands that were the equivalent of the smart kids you went to high school with who seemed to pick up on every cool cultural reference and then use it as a sarcastic weapon to make fun of the jocks and punks behind their backs.

That's when Weezer, Ween, The Presidents of the United States, Nada Surf, and their brethren came out of the woodwork, almost as a reaction to the loud, unruly grunge craze that preceded it.

If you look back, some of these bands are still around and kicking, quite successfully too, although not on a massive breakthrough basis. They inspire feverish cults and once in a while, throw off an actual top 40 single, like Weezer's "Beverly Hills" and Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom."

So when Fountains of Wayne broke out of the gate with "Radiation Vibe," they could have been any one of the other really good smart ass bands. I bought the debut album it came from as a used copy, and frankly, I'm a nut for good power pop so there was no way this could lose.

My description of "Radiation Vibe" to my friends was "the Cars meet The Ramones." This first record was little rawer than the ones that followed, but the super-hook songwriting was already in place. Later on, FOW polished up their act and blatantly milked their love of the Cars for "Stacy's Mom," right down to the rigid 4/4 beat and hand claps.

Even to this day, "Radiation Vibe" makes no sense at all, thumping along with its fuzzy envelopey guitar chords, but when the electric guitars and drums landslide in for the pre-chorus ("And now it's time to say/What I forgot to say") and then the 60's-modeled chorus, you've got to sing along to the stupid words. Songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood perfected their characters and song punch lines album by album, but this one was like a wacko fluke that just worked.

Are you alone now
Did you lose the monkey
He gave you backaches

And now you slouch.

He didn't mean it
He's just a dumb ape
Reading Playboy
On your couch.

And now it's time to say
What I forgot to say.
Baby baby baby
Come on, what's wrong
It's a radiation vibe I'm groovin on.
Don't it make you want to get some sun
Shine on, shine on, shine on.

I went to Pittsburgh
And joined a pro team
Talk about a bad dream
I broke a knee.

But I can still croon
And make the girls swoon
Isn't that the way life's
Supposed to be.

But now it's time to say
What I forgot to say
Baby baby baby
Come on, what's wrong
It's a radiation vibe I'm groovin on
Don't it make you want to get some sun
Shine on, shine on, shine on
Shine on, shine on, shine on

The video is typical of that smart ass buzz that was typical of the times. Feet tapping in time while others are nailed to the floor, some weird scenes that seem inspired by "Eraserhead," and a Rod Serling look-alike with a cigarette in hand with swirling black and white backdrop.


Anonymous said...

The fact that this review was written now makes me so happy. I'm a huge FoW fan and also a big supporter of the "super-hook" as you put it. Good work!

Alex said...

I was just trying to explain to someone that a song can be predictable and still work - Radiation Vibe was the example that came into my head. Lyrically it's odd, as you say, but otherwise it follows the hit song formula. It's one of my favourite songs of all time - you sum it up well!