All the Pain Money Can Buy
Hollywood Records

For most people, All the Pain Money Can Buy will be the first they've heard of Fastball. And to be sure, it's not a bad place to start. However, the CD is actually the Austin, Texas trio's second time at bat—the band's first album, Make Your Mama Proud, won some critical kudos, but never really got out of the gate. Of course, this is somewhat understandable—it was missing a crucial element, namely, "The Way."

"The Way" is one of those rare pop songs that jumps out at you from the first note and keeps you riveted until it's over. Packed with enough hooks for three songs, it towers above the rest of the rehashed ska and techno b(l)eats currently clogging the airwaves. It tells a macabre tale about a real-life couple that disappeared on a highway, never to be heard from again. However, the song rises above the dark subject matter thanks to an engaging bossa nova lilt and an unabashedly hopeful chorus: "It's always summer, they'll never get cold/Never get old and gray…" It's a love song of the strangest kind but thanks to Fastball's talented songsmithing, it works like a charm.

And so does the rest of the album—this is not a one-hit wonderful band. Guitarist-singer Miles Zuniga, bassist/singer Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Sheffield are endlessly inventive, churning out memorable hooks swathed in melodic bass lines and groovy rhythms. "Fire Escape" simply demands that you sing along, and it's an odds-on favorite as the next single.

Of course, it's not all light, frothy pop. "Slow Drag" is a deceptively evil little ditty that at first sounds like a love song, but is in fact one of the best kiss-off songs I've heard in many a moon: "You're nothing to me/…Nothing to me no more." Oh, if only it were that easy. And "Charlie the Methadone Man," with a bass line nod to U2's "An Cat Dubh," paints a bleak picture of an addict's daily routine: "Drinking to try and stay sane…/Chases his tail just as fast as he can."

The old-school U2 connection might be a bit obscure for some younger fans, but Fastball's songs manage to touch on a wide variety of pop influences during the course of this CD. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it's done with such obvious reverence. Like a disco ball refracting light in all directions, All the Pain… carefully filters its influences to avoid sounding derivative. The band blends its modern musical flourishes so seamlessly with the aural ghosts of the Beatles, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Redd Kross, and even newer artists like Space that you never feel you're listening to something rehashed or stale.

Fastball might have fond memories of the "Good Old Days," but they're living for now, and they've created an album that is one of the best of the year. Buy it now—it's guaranteed to ease the pain.

Copyright 1998 Lisa M. Moore
May not be reproduced in whole or part without my written permission.