Fountains of Wayne, Fountains of Wayne (1996)
Fountains of Wayne were one of the rare exceptions, somehow able to cobble together enough great songs per outing that the albums are more than just a place to park the one or two standout tunes.
I'm particularly passionate about their debut. It's not as slick as later efforts, a little rough around the edges, unsure if they're all-in with the pop or keeping one foot in a more slacker indie rock camp. But it also has a lot of great material that holds up well over time.
Which doesn't mean it lacks that killer anchor single; lead-off track "Radiation Vibe" has a riff to die for, and a nonsensical ear candy chorus that burrows in for life ("Baby baby baby c'mon what's wrong? It's a radiation vibe I'm grooving on"); it's as solid a mid-90s indie anthem as anything from Pavement or Guided by Voices. (The retro croon of "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight" approaches similar levels of greatness as well.) But the album is chock full of great little ditties that may be more ephemeral but are no less fun. "Barbara H." and "Sick Day" are both delightful examples of the character-driven vignettes that would become increasing strengths for the band over time, while "Joe Rey" and "Survival Car" are upbeat, surf-rock tinged rockers. The band also breaks out its sense of humor and underdog sensibilities in songs like "Leave the Biker" ("Can't you see my world is falling apart, Baby please leave the biker, leave the biker, break his heart").
They went on to record a half-dozen more albums, some of which had as many winners (particularly 2003's wonderful Welcome Interstate Managers), and with more polished sound, but this was a pretty great introduction. (Since parting a few years back, the band's two songwriters have gone in different directions, with vocalist Chris Collingwood releasing some solo music and a fine album as Look Park, while Adam Schlessinger has continued to write fabulous music for other artists as well as composing amazingly diverse tunes for the tv show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.)
Here's the "Radiation Vibe" video: