All The Pain Money Can Buy


Hollywood Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Fastball makes pop music.

Good pop music. Fun pop music. Clever pop music.

Guitar pop music alive with hooks that will burrow into your brain and hang around for weeks like your obnoxious aunt and uncle from Cleveland.

Now, I had an idea to start this review off with a lengthy introduction analyzing how music critics throughout history have done their best to make "pop" synonymous with "crap" by pounding away at the idea that anything with wide enough appeal to gain the attention of the masses must be hopelessly compromised artistically.

But then I decided that was just more pretentious music critic crap. A good solid pop album deserves a good solid pop review: simple, energetic and fundamentally inoffensive.

Tracks from this Austin, Texas trio's sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy have doubtless already made it onto the playlists of your local alterna-pop station. The dynamite hooks and witty turns of phrase in the album's first two singles ("The Way" and "Fire Escape") practically guarantee it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

With only one tune clocking in over four minutes, and several coming in under three, this album is filled with songs that behave like a cat burglar: get in, grab the goods, get out. If you're looking for profound musical complexity, look elsewhere, but it's fun you want, turn up the volume.

"The Way" starts things off with just the right off-center sensibility, courtesy of bassist/vocalist Tony Scalzo. Building off a staccatto piano riff, Scalzo takes a sing-song approach to the tale of a group that just keeps wandering off track, hitting the highway again and again without ever knowing the way (sounds suspiciously like a small-club tour to me). At the chorus the song turns a corner and blossoms nicely, propelled by a fat riff from guitarist/vocalist Miles Zuniga.

Zuniga, who trades off songwriting duties and lead vocals with Scalzo (think BoDeans, Beatles, etc.), plows more straight-forward -- and even catchier -- ground in "Fire Escape," building the song around a descending-chord hook that's completely inescapable. I mean, as long as we're outlawing everything addictive, what about guitar hooks like this one? If you don't find yourself humming along by the third take, check your pulse. Oh, and, incidentally, the lyric's pretty cool, too -- a nice take on self-acceptance and not trying to be someone you're not.

My vote for single number three (and trust me, there will most definitely be a single number three) has got to be "Sooner Or Later." This piece of Romantics/Nick Lowe-style power-pop is just devastatingly foot-tapping/hand-clapping, perfect music for buzzing down the freeway in a convertible on your way to pick up a date.

Also notable are "G.O.D. (Good Old Days)," which swings hard and sweet with a horn section that's a perfect match for the nostalgic lyric, "Better Than It Was," a Gin Blossoms soundalike right down to the ambivalent lyric; and the sad, thrumming, Pearl Jam-ish "Damaged Goods."

The trio (drummer Joey Shuffield is the third band member) is frequently augmented by keyboard player Kim Bullard, to good effect. Like their pop brethren Semisonic, Fastball seems taken with the mid-period Beatles' mixture of pop song structure and intriguing sonic density, making a fourth player almost mandatory to achieve the full effect.

Enough with the analytical stuff, though. This is pop music, man. Crank it up, tap your feet, hit the road, hit the dance floor, whatever. Just don't sit there when you've got a beat like this to move you along....

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hollywood Records, and is used for informational purposes only.