Fastball – All the Pain Money Can Buy (review)

Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy (Omnivore Recordings)

One of the best albums of the late-Nineties’ alternative scene gets another look

Beginning with a snippet of someone turning the radio dial, then a primitive keyboard loop, “The Way” sounded like nothing else on the radio in 1998. The debut single off Fastball’s sophomore album, All The Pain Money Can Buy, shot up the Modern Rock charts, eventually hitting #1 for seven weeks, and changing the fortunes of the three musicians from Austin forever.

Yet, unlike so many bands from that time period (Marcy Playground, anyone?), Fastball were not a “one-hit wonder.” Two other hits followed, “Fire Escape,” and “Out of My Head,” propelling the album, first to Gold, then to Platinum status, within six months of its release. Here’s the thing – atypical of that time period, this is an entire record of good songs, and it actually still holds up twenty years later. Omnivore Recordings has just issued the album in remastered form, with some very interesting bonus tracks.

Fastball was an unlikely success story. Originally guitarist/vocalist Miles Zuniga, bassist/vocalist Tony Scalzo, and drummer Joey Shuffield started out as a fairly average pop-punk band. But, when their first album, 1996’s Make Your Mama Proud, failed to chart, the guys began working on more melodically sophisticated material. A fortuitous meeting with producer Julian Raymond (who later worked with Cheap Trick), meant the band had an ally who understood their new direction.

The resulting album, All The Pain Money Can Buy, showed that both Zuniga and Scalzo had grown immensely as songwriters. Take Scalzo’s Tom Petty-esque “Better Than it Was,” for instance. There are nice production touches too, like the tasty Rhodes piano on “Which Way to the Top,” which features duet vocals by Poe, or the horns on “G.O.D. (Good Old Days).”

Slower songs, like the moody “Slow Drag” or the Beatles-tinged “Out of My Head,” are things the band would’ve never tried just a few years earlier. Even when they’re trying to stretch out, like on “Charlie the Methadone Man,” there is still an obvious melodic sense that pulls the menacing song along.

Honestly, everything here works – the chiming, power pop of “Damaged Goods,” and the excellent harmonies of “Nowhere Road.” Probably the biggest surprise is how good the sparkling “Fire Escape” still sounds, two decades later.

Of the bonus material, “Quit Your Job” sounds more like the punk they were attempting early in their career, yet there’s a maturity that wasn’t present before. There’s several demos of songs that made the album and it’s interesting to hear them in their infancy. They also juice up the Replacements’ “Androgynous” for a tribute album released around the time of the album. Even better is their take on “This Guy’s in Love With You,” which was featured on Lounge-A-Palooza, the compilation that introduced the band to their producer.

Not everything from this time period has aged well, but Fastball still sounds fresh. —Tony Peters