A lot of ink has been spilled over Fastball’s success, with 1998’s platinum album All the Pain Money Can Buy, the Grammy nominations, the high-profile tours, and the fact that a few months before the out-of-left-field hit single “The Way” took off, the threesome was still working day jobs in Austin. All the Pain was the ticket to fame, and Fastball got more than a year of mileage out of it. The question is, Can the band repeat that phenomenal success? When the follow-up, The Harsh Light of Day, hits stores on September 19, fans will find a group polished by incessant touring and a lengthy stint in the studio. Singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, singer-bassist Tony Scalzo, drummer Joey Shuffield, and co-producer Julian Raymond tinkered with these songs for four months, and at times it’s as if they’ve been cut loose in a candy store. Case in point: “Love Is Expensive and Free,” replete with Brian Setzer’s unmistakable guitar stylings and Jose Hernandez and his orchestra’s mariachi backing. It’s a great song, even if it’s oversweetened by the Ray Conniff treatment. “You’re an Ocean” is a breezy, guilty pleasure with the word “hit” written all over it. Riding the waves of Billy Preston’s pumping piano, Scalzo sings, “You’re an ocean, you’re an ocean, settle down, settle down, what’s the commotion?” with absolutely unaffected giddiness. Zuniga’s uncharacteristically dreamy noir ballad “Vampires” segues into Scalzo’s “Wind Me Up,” a thinly veiled ode to Elvis Costello, all cascading piano and herky-jerky time changes. The eight remaining tracks are laced with hooks, sprinkled with Beatles-esque harmonies, and sweetened with strings and horns. If their last record was all meat and potatoes, The Harsh Light of Day is the rich dessert.
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