When I first heard about Tinted Windows -- the new and unlikely power-pop supergroup featuring members of Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Fountains Of Wayne, and Hanson -- my reaction was unbridled glee. But friends of mine, even those who are fans of some or all of the above-mentioned bands, weren't so excited. "It sounds like a VH-1 reality show cast more than a band," sneered one. "The latest irony-fest for the hipsters," quipped another.
The Windows' Adam Schlessinger, also known as the guy who's written "Stacy's Mom" and "That Thing You Do," takes issue with the naysayers. "It may sound weird," he says, "but it really makes sense. I mean, James (Iha, of Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle, to name just two) and I have been friends for years, and we've worked together on a lot of different projects. And Taylor (Hanson, a/k/a the guy who sang "Mmmbop") and I have wanted to work together for a long time. You can hear a big '70s and '80s rock influence in Hanson's records, just like you can in Fountains Of Wayne's records. Maybe we don't sound exactly alike, but we're coming from the same place."
Sure enough, if you listen closely you'll hear familiar elements of each of the foursome in Tinted Windows' self-titled album (S-Curve), which comes out this week. Smashing Pumpkins' buzzsaw guitars, the hook-filled rock of Fountains Of Wayne and Cheap Trick, even the poppier songcraft of Hanson, are all in the mix. The big, glossy production hearkens back to the glory days of the '70s and '80s without sounding like an exercise in retro. And while this is a side project, the sound they make is that of a bona fide band, and a damn good one as well. If you're dismissing this band just because of who's in it, you're missing out on a killer record.
The Tinted Windows concept has been kicking around since Schlessinger and Hanson met in 1996, shortly after Taylor and his brothers were signed to a record deal. "I blew a chance to write with them for their first major label album," Schlessinger says somewhat ruefully, "which went on to sell something like 13 million copies worldwide. But we kept talking about working together after that."
Three years ago, the pair finally got together for a writing session at the Hansons' place in Tulsa, and the seeds of Tinted Windows were planted. The plan was to make a loud, guitar- and hook-heavy record without the keyboards that distinguish Fountains Of Wayne and Hanson's music. James Iha soon signed on as lead guitarist, and the only thing missing from the nascent band was a drummer.
"We wanted someone that sounded like Bun E. Carlos," says Schlessinger, referring to the legendary drummer of Cheap Trick. "We kept throwing out names, until finally we said, 'Why don't we just call Bun E. and see if he'll work with us?' James and I sort of knew him, because we'd both toured with Cheap Trick, but we weren't friends with him or anything. So we sent him a tape of a few songs, and he said yes, which was pretty amazing."
With the addition of Carlos, the band has three generations of rockers in its ranks. Cheap Trick have been working together since the mid '70s; Schlessinger and Iha grew up listening to them and their contemporaries. And Hanson, while more than a decade removed from his breakthrough hits, is still only 25. Do they hear the music differently? Do the other Windows sit Taylor down and regale him with stories of the halcyon days of the '80s?
"I don't think it really makes that much of a difference. Just because Taylor didn't hear those songs on the radio when they were new doesn't mean that he doesn't appreciate them in the same way we do. I was two years old when the Beatles broke up, but I think I hear the same things in their music as someone who was around in the '60s. So the age thing doesn't really affect us."
Fountains Of Wayne fans will instantly recognize Schlessinger's distinctive songcraft throughout the album, but they may miss his typically witty, literate lyrics, which have earned him the title of "the Ray Davies of the tri-state area" among many critics. In their place are more generic lyrics about girls, love, breakups and similar fare.
"I actually did that on purpose," he says. "The lyrics I write for Fountains Of Wayne are story-based, and I love to write like that, but I decided going into this project that I wanted to get away from that kind of writing and try something different. I wanted people to hear the hooks, and the guitars, and not really have to pay attention to the words. And of course Taylor's got a mushmouthed delivery, so nobody will understand what he's singing anyway. I mean, nobody knows what he's singing on 'Mmmbop,' right?
"But what surprised me is that it's really difficult to write lyrics that you can ignore. There's a premise or a point of view behind each song -- it's not like I was writing gibberish. But the lyrics are definitely not the driving force of the songs. And it's tough to write words you can hum along to without thinking about their meaning, or without a really awkward phrase here and there that's going to stand out in a bad way."
OK, so the lyrics on Tinted Windows won't change your worldview. But you'll definitely be singing along to the assorted "Oo-whoa whoa"s and "Oh come on, come on"s. Like a potato chip, this album is light, crunchy and addictive, full of monster power-pop hooks that grab onto your eardrums and don't let go. It doesn't have a whole lot of depth, but the surfaces are so appealing that it hardly matters.
Tinted Windows made their live debut at Austin's SXSW festival in March, and they're playing a handful of hugely anticipated club shows before they have to go back to their day jobs. Catch them while you can.