The Harsh Light of Day
They don't write 'em like that anymore.
OK, maybe some do. But not many.
And the Austin, Texas, trio stacks on the instant classics in a solid line from one to 12 on this, their third album. The Harsh Light of Day demonstrates that despite the seemingly omnipresent attack of growling, whining carbon copy rockers and throbbing, drone-rave dance beaters, a simple three- or four-chord catchy tune still counts for something.
After the success of "The Way," its breakthrough hit from its 1998 sophomore CD All the Pain Money Can Buy, Fastball toured for months before returning to the studio to record a followup. During that time, Fastball saw "The Way" hit the Billboard Top 5 and "Out of My Head" hit the Top 10, while "Fire Escape" had its own successful run on FM-rock radio. The trio went from unknown Texas bar band to international stars.
By the time thre three returned home from playing hundreds of shows, which culminated in the crowd-pleasing "The Way," Fastball knew just what to do with its next record. Rock more, internalize more, grow more.
The result is its most solid album to date.
"We never set out to be a radio band," admits drummer Joey Shuffield. "We simply wanted to make music that we could be proud of — sales be damned. Miles and Tony just happen to write tunes that lots of people can really sink their teeth into."
Sales went well over a million on Fastball's last album, and if quality is any indication of future popularity, it should easily double that mark with their latest.
Opening with the power pop guitar crunchdown "This Is Not My Life,"(which cops an early Beatles line when they break off the six-string attack to sing "can't you see, can't you see?") The Harsh Light of Day quickly drops from overdrive to singalong savvy with its already signature single, "You're An Ocean." One of the catchiest songs released by any artist this year, and probably the best-crafted gem of the band's career to date, "You're An Ocean" solidifies Fastball's place as the standard bearers for "can't eat just one"pop rock.
The three wear their influences on their sleeves throughout Harsh Light ..., but they do their mama (and their idols) proud. There are a score of classic rock and pop influences that can be pointed at throughout these dozen songs, from the harmonies and chimey three-chord hooks of The Beatles to the instrumental orchestrations of Burt Bacharach. Underscoring Fastball's fast-developing pedigree,"You're An Ocean" even features the work of one of their idols, keyboardist Billy Preston, who played with The Beatles.
But The Harsh Light of Day isn't one of those records that offers one good single and then follows it with a box of filler material. Every track crafts a singular vibe, a sonic world of solid background oohs, aaahs, Mexican horns and chewable guitars.
Singer-songwriters Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo trade off vocals and writing duties. The result is a collection of alternating aural colors that always seems just a little different, and yet, just a little familiar.
Zuniga contributes a smooth-swimming ballad in "Vampires," an expansive, swirling exploration of mood and melody:
"We'll burn like falling stars tonight
and hide like vampires from the daylight
The song is counterpointed by a rich tapestry of sound, punctuated by a dreamy reed that plays off the subtle, but beautiful, string section. Scalzo also shows his ever-expanding rock pen with the mariachi-tinged song "Love is Expensive and Free," which explores the dichotomies of love and features guest ace guitarist Brian Setzer.
"Wind Me Up" kicks the tempo up with a never-slowing bassline that Cheap Trick would be proud to own. The song also nicks a James Bond string theme that pops up throughout before the song fades away on its back.
And then there's "Good-bye,"which plays on a trick that The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and a basket of others, learned early on — repeat a word three times in the chorus of a song and you've got a hit. Fastball's stab at it goes:
"Bye, bye bye...when the world has passed you by
I will never forget your name
do you know why?"
You'll be singing along within two minutes — meeting the goal of all good pop music.
Thank gosh somebody still writes 'em like that.