The Harsh Light Of Day


Hollywood Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Once upon a time there was a band with not one, but two talented singer/songwriters, who alternated on lead vocals.

One played guitar; the other, bass. The guitar player had a throaty, bluesy voice, and his songs ranged from moody ballads to furiously energetic rock songs. The bass player had a buoyant sense of melody and a penchant for romantic pop songs, yet would also rock out when the mood struck him.

Different as they were, their styles complemented one another perfectly, like two sides of the same coin. These divergent approaches kept the group's sound constantly evolving, peopling their exhilarating range of song-styles with quirky characters and creative sonic embellishments. The lead pair were aided and abetted throughout by the group's mop-topped drummer, an unassuming but remarkably steady and versatile backstop.

Well, actually... once upon the time there were two bands. One came from Liverpool and changed the musical world forever with albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's and "The White Album." They were called the Beatles.

The other came from Austin, Texas, and just turned out the best album of their career. They're called Fastball. (And right about now, they probably hate me. Just give it a chance, guys…)

Let's be clear right up front -- Miles Zuniga (guitar/vocals) is not John Lennon, Tony Scalzo (bass/vocals) is not Paul McCartney, and Joey Shuffield (drums) only resembles Ringo when his face is in the shadows. What Fastball is -- much like the Jayhawks -- is a band that fearlessly mixes the old with the new, creating music that's both obviously influenced and determinedly original. On The Harsh Light Of Daymy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , Fastball pays frequent homage to middle-period Beatles without ever sacrificing their musical identity.

The album kicks off with a fantastic one-two punch. Zuniga's "This Is Not My Life" harnesses the rage of the rejected to a heavy-duty electric guitar riff that's half muscle and half melody. He hammers his point home over and over, alternating his approaches between full-out electric barrages, midrange rhythm, and a pair of tinny, mono, volume-on-two interludes that would make George Martin chuckle. The closing sing-along rant is eventually drowned out by feedback that cuts right into the next track, veering 180 degrees into the hyperactive dueling-acoustic-and-electric-piano melodies of "You're An Ocean." The first single from the album, "Ocean" is powered by its unabashedly silly, yet deliriously well-rhymed chorus.

Scalzo and Zuniga trade tracks the rest of the way to similarly entertaining effect. Scalzo's exotic yet philosophical "Love Is Expensive And Free," featuring a full orchestra plus mariachi horns and percussion, cuts directly into Zuniga's silky, creepy "Vampires," which could pass for a sequel to the Blue Oyster Cult classic "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Later on, Scalzo's languorous, acerbic "Funny How It Fades Away" contrasts string-accented verses with hammering choruses, then cuts straight into Zuniga's "Don't Give Up On Me," a parade of sturdy electric licks and urgent vocals.

In the middle, Zuniga and Scalzo each take two in a row. Scalzo's "Wind Me Up" is an insistently catchy power-pop track heavily spiced with symphonic flourishes. The bizarre little coda that follows it features trains rolling by as a sultry-voiced woman speaks incomprehensible French. Before Billy Shears or Mr. Kite can arrive to translate for us, though, we cut to "Morning Star," a guitar-driven blast of sarcasm that proves Scalzo isn't all sweetness and light.

Zuniga follows with one of my favorite cuts of Y2K. "Time" is a rip-it-up piece of rock'n'roll that grafts all manner of edgy sonic twists and turns onto a killer electric hook that's topped off by Zuniga's best belting "Twist And Shout" vocals. From those thundering heights, Zuniga slides smoothly down into the ironically light "Dark Street," all layered harmonies and upbeat chords.

Finishing things up strongly, the album closer "Whatever Gets You On" opens contemporary with acoustic guitar over electronic percussion, before the chorus throws the song into an affectionate pastiche of "White Album" Hammond organ, descending "aahhh-uuhhh" harmony vocals, and "weeping," Harrison-y guitar licks. It's about now that you remember the cinematic, run-the-songs-together-into-a-single-diverse-and-dynamic-soundscape strategy is descended directly from Sgt. Pepper's.

Even with all the intriguing parallels, I might still have exercised compassion for Fastball and left the Beatles thing alone, if not for one little nugget hidden away in this disc's liner notes. The album features terrific keyboard work throughout by sidemen Bennett Salvay and Kim Bullard. Still, for one track at least, our boys went right to the source. Thus, we find that "You're An Ocean" features piano by none other than… Billy Preston.

I bet he felt right at home.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 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.