Adam Schlesinger died on April 1st from COVID-19 complications. Not even three months later, “collaborators, tourmates, friends, and fans” put together Saving for a Custom Van, an extensive tribute album spanning songs from his varied career. Schlesinger is best known for being a founding member of Fountains of Wayne, but he also was in the more indie band Ivy and the supergroup Tinted Windows (with members from Hanson, Cheap Trick, and The Smashing Pumpkins). He also wrote songs for a variety of movies (Music & Lyrics, That Thing You Do!, Josie and the Pussycats), television shows (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Broadway (the postponed show, The Bedwetter) that also make an appearance on this tribute album.
The resulting collage of covers is heartfelt and plays like a personal mix tape of sorts. This makes it hard to pass any judgment. Overall, it is a powerful homage that also educates listeners on the history of Schelsinger’s work. In the sad context of the album, lyrics stand out as especially poignant, from the sad irony of “All Kinds of Time” to the evergreen “Troubled Times.”
“Stacy’s Mom” is actually not the star of this tribute album, and that may be fitting. It may have been Fountains of Wayne’s first song to reach the Billboard Hot 100, but bandmate Chris Collingwood doesn’t want it to be Schelsinger’s only legacy. Rachel Bloom, of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, produces a fine cover, but it doesn’t stand out above the rest of the songs. Most covers on this album are fairly faithful to the original, but songs that do stick out as being particularly inventive are “Radiation Vibe,” “Just the Girl,” “Hackensack,” and “Tess Don’t Tell.”
Kay Hanley, singer for Letters to Cleo, takes more of a risk in reinterpreting Fountains of Wayne’s first single, “Radiation Vibe.” She starts with a synth intro that gives a spacey mood, then the song transitions fully into a synth-pop jam complete with more syncopation in the traditional kick drum beat.
The surprise of hearing “Just the Girl,” originally performed by The Click Five, appear on this album led me down the rabbit hole to see what other songs had actually been written by Schelsinger. (My biggest find: the old school Jonas Brothers song “I Am What I Am.”) Beyond the delight of learning the backstory of this song, this cover also sticks out with its dream sequence ambiance and distinctive drum beat. The mood is slightly less chipper than the original, but Remember Sports capture the almost Valley Girl approach to the vocals.
Ali Koehler’s “Hackensack” is full of sonorous symbolism. Her tone is a little less somber, but the delivery is more monotone than the original. The instrumentation that sounds like a music box or a child’s xylophone alludes to the young love theme of the lyrics. If you use your imagination, the percussion almost sounds like a hacky sack being passed among friends.
“Tess Don’t Tell,” an Ivy original, is covered with synth-pop elements that evolve into more pop-punk sounds as the song continues. Replacing the more breathy chorus, the vocals are more assertive in this version. Similarly, the guitar solo interlude is maintained, but the electric guitar is more prominent. The bass line that immediately follows the solo to accompany the following “Tess Don’t Tell” command is a nice touch.
My only criticism of the album is that there isn’t much variation in the genre of the covers. This is understandable, given the network of contributors, but it does lead to a touch of monotony across the 31 songs. Can there really be too many people who wanted to be involved in this effort though? No! I might just recommend an intermission.
Saving for a Custom Van Track Listing:
- Utopia Parkway – Apex Manor
- Undertow – Tanya Donelly and Gail Greenwood
- Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight – Jeff Rosenstock
- Radiation Vibe – Kay Hanley
- Way Back Into Love – Ben Lee and Sarah Silverman
- Just the Girl – Remember Sports
- Stacy’s Mom – Rachel Bloom
- Red Dragon Tattoo – Christian Lee Hutson
- A Fine Day For a Parade – Sad13
- What’ll It Be – Jack Dolgen
- A Dip in the Ocean – Motion City Soundtrack
- Valley Winter Song – Field Mouse
- That Thing You Do – Cheekface
- I’ve Got a Flair – Lucy Stone
- Sick Day – Nada Surf
- Four in the Morning – Jody Porter
- All Kinds of Time – Suzy Shinn and Charlie Brand
- Everyday – Ted Leo
- I’ve Got a Feeling – Potty Mouth
- Sink to the Bottom – Cocktails
- Our Twisted Fate – Bree Mckenna
- Troubled Times – Ethan Eubanks
- Hackensack – Ali Koehler
- Pretend to Be Nice – Charly Bliss
- Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim – Julian Velard and Alex Dezen
- Tess Don’t Tell – HUNNY
- Hey Julie – Mikey Erg
- Come On – Off Book and the Family Band
- Mexican Wine – Prince Daddy & The Hyena and Just Friends
- Little Red Light – Lisa Prank
- Survival Car – Joshua Stoddard