Make Your Mama Proud


Hollywood Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I’ve always thought Ben Folds Five nailed it when they titled the collection of outtakes from their first two albums Naked Baby Photos. There are bands that burst onto the scene more or less fully formed, with a strong idea of how their music should sound and how to arrange and play it for maximum effect. There are also bands—many, many bands—that rely heavily in the early going on desire and enthusiasm over actual musical craft. In the latter cases, if the band manages to last beyond that initial flare of inspiration and attention, their early recorded output can later become a source of mild embarrassment, hard evidence of how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned.

The fact that veteran Austin, Texas power-pop trio Fastball recently issued what is arguably the best album of their career (the superb Step Into Light) only accentuates the scruffiness of their 1996 debut Make Your Mama Proud, a disc that’s rough and ragged and decidedly punkier in tone and execution than anything they’ve recorded since. The raw materials are all there: Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo trade songs and lead vocals, drummer Joey Shuffield powers the music along with a steady backbeat, and the melodies are solid. But emphasis here is not so much on the songs themselves as on three young guys cutting loose with fat riffs and hyperactive tempos.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The aptly-named “Human Torch” sets the tone from the start as the trio races through a tune about a character whose “hair is soaked in kerosene” while playing as if their locks were literally on fire. “She Comes ’Round” offers more finesse, but still sounds closer to early Green Day than the sort of clever, melodic, Beatlesque power-pop that would become the band’s bread and butter. When they break it down and build it up again, as on the hammering title track, it’s evident they understand how the pieces of these songs fit together; they just don’t appear to have the tools yet to do more with these tunes than just play them as hard and fast as they can. Their sonic palette is all primary colors here; Zuniga plays all guitar, Scalzo plays all bass and they add keyboards for just one song here, preferring to bash these tunes out as a muscular, guitar-centric power trio.

“Are You Ready For The Fallout?” offers the first real hint of the band’s future direction, as they finally bring acoustic guitars into the mix and channel a bit of a melodic Teenage Fanclub sound, with Scalzo and Zuniga harmonizing up front. It’s a brief interlude, though; by the next track “Nothing” they’re back to tight and angry, releasing those pent-up frustrations, the one real advance being the way the group’s two singer-songwriters trade lines, urging one another on.

The kinetic energy is off the charts for most of the rest of album, though just a few notable moments emerge intact from the furious blur of riffs and beats: the distinctly Who-like mid-song breakdown in “Altamont,” the reggae-on-speed verses of stoner anthem “Seattle,” and the cheeky lyric and see-sawing melody of closer “Telephone Calls.”

It must also be said that “Eater” is tough listen, burning riffs falling back on the verses to leave space for a tune about a misogynistic bastard and the emotional abuse he heaps on his girl. Even at their scruffiest, though, young Fastball manages to charm; it may in fact be clinically impossible not to sing along to the oh-so-simple chorus of “Knock It Down.” They also figured out pretty early that breakdowns are their friend, allowing them to punch up a key line or solo or chorus. (It’s amazing what dynamics and tempo shifts and diverse textures and rhythms will do, as opposed to going balls-out all the time.)

Make Your Mama Proud is raw, fast, and tight, offering abundant energy and infrequent polish, though Zuniga, Scalzo and Shuffield show welcome flashes of the smarter, richer, deeper band they would become. Ultimately this debut album is more about adrenalin than skill, one for the Fastball completists who want to consider the full arc of a band whose melodic sensibilities and musical craftsmanship have grown tremendously over the course of time.

Rating: C+

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