Whatever tense alchemy exists between Schlesinger and Collingwood still works. The first single off Sky, “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart,” is a bullet train of power chords, chiming pianos, and beguiling wordplay. But now workaday tales are undercut with dread: “Richie and Ruben” details a string of failed business deals; “The Summer Place” finds a family being undone by decades-old rifts; and “Action Hero” stars a put-upon father coming to terms with his own mortality. The middle-class heroes of Utopia Parkway are now an endangered species. Tellingly, their namesake store in Jersey went out of business in 2009.
Both Collingwood and Schlesinger insist that whatever themes emerge from each new record are largely an afterthought—that these are accidental concept albums, reflections of their observations and adventures. Their ability to conjure big stories from small moments is what’s helped make Fountains so relatable for so long. “If you write something very specific and little,” says Schlesinger, “people can just get into it as a story, then they can step back and see if it says anything bigger than that.”
Fountains has never been considered a New York City band: They were too arch to fit in among the balladeers of the early nineties and too square for the later downtown-rock revival. But few groups have chronicled the city—its landmarks, its dreamers, its rich peripheries—with such care.
One of Sky’s numbers is called “Radio Bar.” The band’s history at the joint doesn’t end with those late-night BS sessions: Schlesinger even met his wife there. A few months ago, Collingwood, in a rare trip to the city, stopped by and checked out its jukebox. Fountains remains enshrined: “Radiation Vibe” is selection 20-01. “It’s still there,” he says. “The people who put us in there aren’t there anymore, but we’re still there. It’s a good hangout. A good little bar.”