"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Broadband Boogie

One of the reasons I've been so vocal about internet radio on the blog here lately is that with my limited mobility, I find myself listening to it a lot during the daytime while Mrs. Toast is at work. I've become a big fan of Pandora, which is just one of the services likely to disappear from the ol' Web Radio dial on July 15th if the RIAA is able to uphold the recent ruling that jacks up royalty fees to levels that are unsustainable by most webcasters.

If you haven't visited Pandora before, it is awesome. Drawing on the practical application of the Music Genome Project, Pandora uses actual human beings who listen to and then classify songs by a number of musical attributes. Say, for example, you're a fan of Bruce Hornsby as I am; according to Pandora, Bruce's music features "vocal harmony, a vocal-centric aesthetic, major key tonality, and prominent use of rhythm." By "seeding" my search list with this artist, Pandora creates a custom streaming radio station just for me that includes not only The Bruce, but other artists I've never heard of who make music containing these same musical elements. As the station plays, you can fine-tune it by giving each track a Tivo-style thumbs-up or thumbs down, which is taken into consideration as it makes future selections. After a little while, it gets positively uncanny in its ability to play little-known tracks that you really like, and it pisses me off to no end that this innovative site will likely have to shut down due to the short-sighted greed of the record industry.

Another artist I've recently (re)discovered through Pandora that has actually prompted me to buy their CD is the power-pop band Fountains of Wayne. Named after an outdoor furniture and landscaping store in Wayne, New Jersey, you probably remember them from their 2003 hit "Stacy's Mom", the video of which featured the lovely and talented Rachael Hunter appearing in the title role in a variety of provocative poses. A lot of people dismissed that song as a novelty and the band as a one-hit wonder, but these guys have a lot more going for them than this ode to teenage lust. Frontmen Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood have perfected the ability to write short, catchy pop-rock songs with more hooks than your Dad's tackle box; for example, Schlesinger penned the title track for the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You Do!", which landed him both a Golden Globe (1996) and Oscar nomination (1997) for Best Original Song in a soundtrack.

For further evidence of the band's affable quirkiness, consider the first single from their new album "Traffic and Weather", entitled "Someone to Love" (watch the video here). Like "Stacy's Mom", the song is populated by richly-drawn characters: protagonists Seth Shapiro and Beth McKenzie lead lonely single lives as they toil in their dull day jobs. Even though they live in the same building, they are unaware of each other even though it appears there's a good chance they could be very happy together. That the narrative takes an unexpected twist at the end, and that this entire detailed mini-soap opera plays out in a mere three minutes and 54 seconds is a testament to Schlesinger and Collingwood's formidable songwriting chops, and more than one person has declared the duo to be "The New Lennon-McCartney". While that assessment may be a tad premature, it should be noted that a good while before they wrote the songs that would define an entire generation, John and Paul were penning lightweight pop ditties like "Please Please Me" and "Love Me Do", so the seemingly audacious comparison may have some merit after all; only time will tell.

My favorite track on FoW's new album, however, is a paean to the automobile, in the great tradition of car songs such as "409" by the Beach Boys, "Shut Down" by Jan and Dean, "GTO" by Ronnie and the Daytonas, "Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords, etc. -- although the vehicle in question here is a somewhat unlikely '92 Subaru. But FoW manage to combine an engaging story line with crunchy lead guitars, an immediately hum-able melody, snappy woo-hoos and handclaps, and an awesome break near the end of the song that recalls The Who at their windmilling, power-pop best. (Check it out for yourself here.)

In fact, I liked it so much after hearing it that I ordered the CD, and who knows, maybe you will too. But it's not likely that the RIAA will keep people like us in mind when services like Pandora (not to mention thousands of other internet radio streams) must shut down rather than pay outrageous new fees that in most cases exceed any income they make. Not only do the listeners lose, but the artists lose exposure and record companies will see CD sales decline even further. So, great; nobody wins, and everybody loses. Who the fuck came up with this brilliant idea?

For the latest news in the ongoing battle to save net radio, click here.


  • At 6/08/2007 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Bake Town said…

    Fountains of Wayne is one of my favorite bands ever!

  • At 6/12/2007 02:09:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Toast said…

    NOTE TO READERS: I've become aware that on some browsers the embedded music link in this post plays automatically whether you want it to or not, and under some conditions can't be stopped without leaving the page.

    Personally, I hate it when I go to sites that do things I have no control over, and I don't want WitW to be one of those. Therefore I've moved the file to a different location and made a non-embedded link to it.

    Please let me know if you experience any other strange behavior. Thanks.

    -Mr. Toast


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