Fountains of Wayne’s characters have suffered from a variety of neuroses and tics — inappropriate attraction to a friend’s mom, a mistaken belief in the sex appeal of Subarus — but the misguided white-collar strivers on the Jersey band’s fifth album are coping with a more serious affliction: middle age. In “The Summer Place,” a 40-ish woman revisits the family beach house and remembers her passive-aggressive dad, Seagram’s-soused mom and teen days shoplifting and gobbling mushrooms. It’s a John Cheever novel set to a Raspberries beat. In “Action Hero,” a harried father can’t let go of his comic book notions of saving the world; the weight of failed expectations lands him in the hospital with “things taped to his chest.”
Since their 1996 debut, Fountains of Wayne have broken up, reunited, longed for hits and scored a minor one (“Stacy’s Mom,” off Welcome Interstate Managers); in the throes of their own no-longer-youth, songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood seem to have accepted the idea that they’re here to stay, crafting overly smart, post-New Wave guitar-and-keyboard pop for a posse of diehards and the occasional besotted bar crowd. Sky Full of Holes isn’t as jarringly disco-fied as Traffic and Weather was in 2007, but it also lacks a lethal hook on the level of their still-greatest song, “Radiation Vibe.” It’s softer and subtler, with less to prove but plenty of low-key grace. “Cold Comfort Flowers” invents the genre of MOR-psychedelia, combining weird plinky keyboards, classic rock guitar fills, a quaalude rhythm and quasi-spiritual lyrics about sad people “climbing toward the spots in the sun.” The closing track, “Cemetery Guns,” also has death on the brain. If you saw yourself in the clueless-loser anthems of previous albums, beware — you might just see yourself here, too, on the crest of a hill, staring down at grave flowers doomed to decay.