Little White Lies


Independent release, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes they get away – from me, and from you.

By the time Little White Lies was issued to little fanfare in 2009, Fastball had been largely and unfortunately written off as one-hit wonders, joining talented ’90s alt-rock acts like Semisonic and the Gin Blossoms on the fringes of a music scene they had once ascended.  The Texas power-pop trio’s sophomore album, 1998’s All The Pain Money Can Buy, blew up in a big way on the strength of monster single “The Way,” pushing the band into the glare of the industry spotlight and making the relative commercial flop of 2000’s otherwise dynamite follow-up The Harsh Light Of Day that much harder to overcome.  After parting ways with Hollywood Records and issuing 2004’s Keep Your Wig On on Rykodisc – another solid album that made little impact on the charts -- the group dispersed briefly, only to find that they wanted to keep playing together.  And so, they did, more or less starting over, playing clubs and building momentum for a return to the studio.

Fastball – Miles Zuniga (vocals/guitars), Tony Scalzo (vocals/bass/guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums) -- never felt like a band that was suited for the kind of attention and pressure “The Way” earned them.  There’s nothing the least bit flashy or easily marketed about what they do – they’re just tremendously consistent at writing concise, punchy guitar-pop songs with strong melodies and great harmonies, alternating propulsively upbeat tunes with sardonic laments and quirky character-driven songs.

They also feature two singer-songwriters whose voices mesh wonderfully, and while I’m not going to saddle them again with a review-long comparison to the Beatles, albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver remain strong influences on their work.  They love a good hook, their vocal arrangements are always clever, and in the latter-day reformation period, they’re employing dual lead vocals more than ever.  Scalzo and Zuniga are also frequently co-writing songs now, which they rarely if ever did in the band’s earlier days, bringing an ever-stronger combination of Zuniga’s essential rock drive and Scalzo’s gift for catchy melodies.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Album opener “All I Was Looking For Was You” is a classic single – hooky as anything, with a strong chorus, a tight arrangement and great playing.  It’s also one of their sunniest songs ever, a tune about searching all around for happiness and finding it when you’re not looking, with the person who was already at your side. 

“The Malcontent (This Modern World)” harks back to earlier Fastball laments, a partly resigned, partly acid-tongued critique of the current, superficial, celebrity-obsessed era: “I’m tired of living in the modern world / With pretty boys and plastic girls / Broken hearts, vanity’s the disease / It really doesn’t mean a thing to me.”  (For good measure they throw on a reference to “The Way” – “I hear my music on the radio / What’s that song from long ago they’re still playing / Is it saying anything to you?”)  Title track “Little White Lies” builds up a nice head of steam on a full tank of self-loathing and indignation, nailing in a three-minute pop song the way humans self-deceive when we want to see something that isn’t there, or want not to see something that is.  At the end it powers to a strong finish that drops right into “Mono To Stereo,” an upbeat cut with a very catchy, slightly sing-songy hook that hums along with handclaps, acoustic strums and all measure of odds and ends designed to get your feet tapping. 

“How Did I Get Here?” is a fun, quirky little existential pop blues, underscoring the fact that this is a more mature and philosophical Fastball than before.  “We’ll Always Have Paris” is a raucous snarkfest with some genuine thump -- a Zuniga specialty – but ironically, it’s the one after “We’ll Always Have Paris” that features true French flavor.  “Angelie,” complete with accordion, is a dark tale of obsessive love, showing the same flair for putting a dark, exotic twist on their basic power-pop template as was heard on tunes like Harsh Light Of Day’s “Love Is Expensive And Free” and “Vampires.”

“She’s Got The Rain” brings a certain surreal artiness to the proceedings, a bluesy, piano-based tune that thrums along behind dueling lead vocals, with the chorus taking on a sunny cast before the bridge goes all spacey and psychedelic.  In a subtle shift from past albums, Scalzo plays a lot of guitar here, with studio hand Bruce Hughes handling bass, while Zuniga does double-duty as producer for most of these cuts.  Ironically, the only song Hughes doesn’t play on here is the only one where he earns a co-writing credit, the two-minute post-breakup hookfest “Rampart Street.”

“White Noise” lets the boys unleash a little more aggression with both twin guitars and Shuffield’s drums hitting a little heavier, but again the core is a good hook, a singalong lyric and steady drive.  “Noise” drops right into the mellow closer “Soul Radio,” which starts out as wistful piano ballad and does a nice build, adding guitar in the third chorus to give it extra punch as it builds to a swirling late-Beatles close, complete with keening violin.

Little White Lies showcases a group that’s managed to mature musically and lyrically without losing the essential character of their sound.  They are as fun and hooky and sharply witty as ever, regardless of whether mainstream music buyers are paying attention.  If you miss this one, it’s your loss.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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