After 40 years of guitar jangle and sinfully sweet harmonies, you’d think the power-pop genre would be fully played out by now. And you’d be right. So let’s admit from the outset that Fastball doesn’t accomplish anything new. But there’s a reason why kids are still discovering The Beatles two generations down the line, and there’s a good reason why thousands of bands have followed the Fab Four’s template of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, backbeat and hook-laden choruses. Derivation can still sound fabulous, and Fastball proves it on the band’s latest release.
Combining jangly mid-’60s, Brit-invasion guitars with a more aggressive post-punk attack, this Austin trio’s fourth album adapts the Fab Four’s signature sound to an impressive array of genres, including garage rock (“Louie, Louie,”—not the one you’re thinking of), skinny-tie New Wave rave-ups (“’Til I Get it Right”), country weepers (“Mercenary Girl”) and salsa workouts (“Red Light”). The old Rubber Soul magic surfaces most clearly on tracks such as “Airstream” and “Perfect World,” mid-tempo acoustic strummers featuring indelible choruses and spot-on Lennon/McCartney harmonies. But there are echoes of past Liverpudlian greatness everywhere. The break in the middle of “Our Misunderstanding” had me checking to make sure I wasn’t listening to a misplaced copy of Beatles for Sale, and several other tracks are highly reminiscent of Beatlemania once removed, as filtered through the likes of Badfinger and The Raspberries. There’s a propulsive drive and urgency in much of The Beatles’ best early music, a palpable sense of joy in simply singing and playing together, and singer/songwriters Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo capture it perfectly in Keep Your Wig On’s uptempo tunes. It’s hard to escape the notion that the band is having a lot of fun.
As an unexpected bonus, these guys are witty and funny, with some of the sharpest lyrical observations and oddball sentiments since the last Fountains of Wayne album. Al Anderson of NRBQ co-writes a tune, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger produces a couple songs, and the Fastball boys groove it right over the heart of the power-pop plate on almost every track. The last third of the album bogs down a bit, and a couple tracks jangle on a bit too long, but there’s no denying the immediacy and appeal of most of these songs. This is singalong rock music at its best, chock full of memorable hooks and choruses. Power Pop Band #1,001 sounds absolutely fab to me.