When grunge came to the forefront in 1991, there was now a specific sound that was associated with rock and roll. It was great that rock, not just major-label pop, was dominating the airwaves for the first time since the late seventies, but there wasn't much room for light in the darkness of grunge. Bands such as Jellyfish found it hard to connect with an early nineties audience wanting a dose of pain over sweetness. In other words, although the next few years was good for plenty of bands, it pretty much meant that any sense of pop in rock was lost. Of course, this isn't true to the regional bands that built a following in their home state. But in the nineties when you find success locally, a major label will come swooping in hoping that the success will continue nationally. And when it doesn't happen on that large scale that the suits were hoping for, they spit you out by dropping you from the label and suddenly you're a failure and a has-been. And this is what happened to Fastball, one of the most underrated bands of the decade.
Tony Scalzo - Bass/Vocals
Miles Zuniga - Guitar/Vocals
Joey Shuffield - Drums
They are from Austin, Texas and they have two lead singers!! Also, they had two albums IN A ROW that kick ass. And three other albums that are really fucking good. I want to talk about my three favourite Fastball albums.
Fastball released 'Make Your Momma Proud' in 1996 and it is still one of my favourite albums to listen to if I want to pump myself up. It's Fastball at their most loud and intense. It sounds a bit like Husker Du on a pop bender. Clearly a band excited to be playing their songs the way they're meant to be heard. It screams debut, but that's not a bad thing, it just means you can hear the joy in every note. It opens with the sound of a match being lit, Joey Shuffield hits the snare and then we're off! That opening track, 'Human Torch', is one of my favourites on the record, and it really sets the pace nicely for the rest of the album. Miles Zuniga's guitar work on this album is great also, even the little solo on 'Lender', a song about friendship and drugs that just kills me with how it can do so much with just a few chords. It's not a perfect album. Tony Scalzo's voice isn't yet showing it's true beauty that would provide later albums with unmistakable emotional heft, and Miles is even further away from the brilliance he would eventually put on display. Almost every song is played at the same speed in a similar style. But actually, it doesn't really wear thin and it's just one of those albums where its sameness feels right because the songs are good enough to hold up. It's great, fun stuff and there is one song tucked in the middle there that will always turn heads. It's called, 'Are You Ready For The Fallout' and not only is it the best song on the album, but it is clearly a good representation of what lays in store.
'All The Pain Money Can Buy' came out in 1998 and ended up selling over a million units. This album is NOTHING like their debut. As all great bands do, Fastball grew from a good band to a great band in just one album. EVERY song is amazing. There are layers. There are harmonies. There are great choruses. There are solos. Yes, dear reader, these are SONGS. Remember songs? How they change from moment to moment, grow with each listen yet grab you straight away. It just doesn't fucking let up and it's at about halfway through the album where you stop and think, "wait, how are these guys not the biggest band in the world??" The first song, 'The Way', was the reason for success of the album and it shines from the first chord. 'Warm Fuzzy Feeling' will NEVER get old, and as much as I try to wear it out, it refuses.
'Harsh Light Of Day' was released in 2000. It's lush production is perfect for the direction the band was going in. It has that quality that most 'second great albums' have, which is that it sounds like Fastball and only Fastball, yet not one of the songs would sound right on the 'first great album'. The one-two punch of 'This Is Not My Life' and 'You're An Ocean' is still one of the great segways ever. It features piano work from Billy Preston, who fucking played on fucking 'Get Back'. FUCK!! I love Tony's bass work on this album, it makes me want to be that good of a musician. He actually plays a lot like Mccartney because he never settles for a boring bass line. And 'Whatever Gets You On' makes me want to smoke a doob. God, these melodies just never stop. I'm so happy this album exists.
What I love about their albums is that they are smart and funny, sad and whimsical, yet with so much going on, they are, at the end of the day, great songs and they are so easy to listen to. Usually if a band is easy to listen to, they have little depth. But Fastball prove, just as their predecessors from the 60's and 70's did, that the greatest songwriters can change all that.