Has it really been eleven years since Fastball gobbled up everyone’s attention with “The Way”? All The Pain Money Can Buy was massive, with several tracks (“Fire Escape”, “Sooner or Later”, “Which Way To The Top”) blasting from every car radio, walkman and video channel for almost a year. Simply put, it was a monster album that should have greased the skids for an easy ten year ride, the kind that lame bands like Creed and Nickelback seem to have blackmailed their way into.
The follow-ups were good records, but each seemed to fall further off the radar despite solid songwriting from Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo. The music scene was changing and the labels were starting to free-fall. Perhaps it was backlash after their success; more likely there was no common place to promote a band that echoed the inventiveness of The Beatles with a sound that was equal parts garage and powerop. The Harsh Light of Day was as good or better than its predecessor, but sold poorly, and I don’t even know anyone who owns 2004′s Keep Your Wig On besides me. As a fan, even I was stunned to dicscover a live album earlier this year…four years after its release.
So don’t feel bad if your first thought upon hearing about Little White Lies is “they’re back?” Short recent hiatus notwithstanding, Scalzo, Zuniga and drummer Joey Shuffield have been throwing Fastball at you all along, and I’m glad to tell you that their heater still smokes.
Stripped down, straight-ahead and instantly infectious, “All I Was Looking For Is You” grabs you from the first note and leads the charge. Alternating poppy rockers and midtempo shuffles (“The Malcontent” is kissing cousins to “The Way”), eleven of the cuts on Little White Lies wisely dance around the three minute mark. With trademark harmonies and airtight musicianship intact, several tracks beg for the kind of exposure that their older hits received. While Fastball still channels classic pop bands in ther sound, their Texas roots flavor the stew (“Angelie” even boasts accordion).
The title track is killer; alternating a Lennon-esque rant with creative harmonies against a soulful dance beat (!) before tripping headlong into the acoustic snap of “Mono To Stereo”. My favorite is “We’ll Always Have Paris”, a perfect cross between Ian Hunter and Bob Dylan with la-la-la-la vocals and a short burst of a guitar solo that Mick Ronson would have been proud of. “She’s Got The Rain” has the bounce and piano-based pomp that Paul McCartney used to make a living from. And while “Rampart Street” may rehash a chord structure that’s been used a million times before, it sounds fresh and bright thanks to a sparkling guitar break and yes, those harmonies. The closer, “Soul Radio”, starts out like a darker tune but layers peel back until it immerses you in a more complex but equally irresistible vibe.
Fastball fans will be thrilled; those who only knew the massive hits need to get on board with the rest of us. Little White Lies sounds great (kudos, Bob Clearmountain) and is on my short list of candidates for the Best of 2009.
Visit Fastball’s official website.
Fastball on MySpace.
Sooner or Later we’ll get some videos from the new album.
But while we wait…how about a streaming concert from NPR?