brent johnson digs up another lost treasure, this week from Fastball …
Recently, a co-worker in her early 20s asked me why I’m so enamored with the music of the mid- to late-1990s — an era she may not remember much of, since she spent it in elementary school.
It’s simple, I told her. It was a time when pop-rock bands that played their own instruments and wrote solid songs still got played on the radio. You know: Third Eye Blind, The Wallflowers, Fastball …
“Fastball?” she asked. “I’ve never heard of them.”
So I started to sing …
“Anyone could see the road that they walk on is paved in gold …”
“Ah!” she exclaimed. “I know that song!”
Such is the plight of a one-hit wonder: Not everyone knows your name, but everyone knows your song — even if they were second-grader when it came out.
But Fastball was really more than a one-hit wonder. In fact, ‘The Way’ — their catchy, flamenco-tinged smash of 1998 — wasn’t their only Top 10 single. Remember ‘Out Of My Head’?
“Was I out of my head? Was I out of my mind? How could I have ever been so blind?”
Sure, you do.
Fastball had plenty of songs like that. The sturdy little trio from Texas — bassist Tony Scalzo, guitarist Miles Zuniga and drummer Joey Shuffield — peddled well-written power-pop with vivid hooks and candy-coated melodies. Think of them like Fountains Of Wayne’s cousin, only without the satire.
Their sophomore record, 1998’s All The Pain Money Can Buy (i.e., the one with the hits), is a gem. And their third album, 2000’s The Harsh Light Of Day, is even better — though it didn’t make as big a dent on the charts, thanks to the boy bands who were taking over the pop scene at the time.
It’s worth resurrecting. The record is darker, with more depth, highlighting Fastball’s strongest suit: the dual songwriting of their singers. Scalzo, with his McCartney-like tenor voice, has more spritely, catchy tunes. Zuniga, with his more gravely vocals, has a moodier edge to his songs — like ‘Vampires,’ arguably the album’s best track. The melody flutters between menace and beauty. And the arrangement is subtly baroque, with woodwinds and vibraphone.
Fastball is still around, playing small shows and festivals and releasing a new album every now and then. But yes, I miss the era when you could still find music like theirs on your radio dial.