Oct 25, 2000 at 12:00 am

It’d be easy for cynics to dismiss Fastball as a one-and-a-half-hit wonder. If the Grammy-nominated “The Way” and “Out of My Head” held potential, certainly the band’s latest effort, The Harsh Light of Day, delivers on it. No doubt, this record will come as a revelation to music heads who have been singer-songwriters. Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo have delivered a collection of excellent songs that by far eclipses the band’s two previous efforts and puts Fastball in a league of its own.

Harsh Light is brimming with well-crafted, multilayered ditties such as the first single, “You’re an Ocean.” Featuring legendary keyboard man Billy Preston on upright piano, “You’re an Ocean” is a classic three-minute pop gem that gets better with repeated listens. The Joe Jackson- and salsa-influenced “Love is Expensive and Free” veers into Jellyfish territory, with its heavily orchestrated string arrangements and pristine guitar work courtesy of Brian Setzer. “Wind Me Up” also scores with its live-and-let-die James Bond feel. With tempo switcheroos and guitar workouts to boot, “Wind Me Up” wouldn’t have been out of place on one of McCartney’s mid-’70s Wings projects.

As with any polished pop-rock record released today, a positive consumer response is always a hit-and-miss affair. Truth be told, even if Fastball is a relatively faceless act, you’ll be hard put to find a finer three-piece, multilayered Beatles-influenced band with better songs. If guitar-chorus-driven songs are what you’re after, this one’s a no-brainer.