It's been four years since Fountains of Wayne's sublime sophomore disc, ''Utopia Parkway,'' failed to score the big sales it deserved. Now the band has cannily front-loaded its 16-song return, Welcome Interstate Managers, with a triple punch of joyously clever power pop. The opener, ''Mexican Wine,'' is filled with ''Strawberry Fields Forever'' horns and brass-ring fumbles (''I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times''). The rollicking ''Bright Future in Sales'' is a wry rocker about a self-sabotaging but ever-optimistic salesman. And first single ''Stacy's Mom'' -- a teen's hormonally addled mash note about his girlfriend's hot mama (''I know you think it's just a fantasy/But since your dad walked out, your mom could use a guy like me!'') -- is crank-it-up, warble-along perfection, driven by stuttery Cars-style guitar licks.
But ''Welcome'' is not all about juicy power chords. ''Fire Island'' is a soft, shimmering ballad that pays homage to those halcyon days of naked pool parties when the 'rents left town. (Yes, the thirtysomething members of FOW have a sweet spot for their formative years.) And in the melancholy ''Hackensack,'' a Jersey dude views L.A. as a distant mirage where his high school dream girl and ''everybody else'' goes.
''Parkway'' didn't take Fountains of Wayne to the charts, but let's hope the ''Interstate'' will.