Sharps & flats

The Fastbacks saw grunge come and go. Like that matters to a band that hasn't left the garage in 20 years.

Published October 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Don't bet against the Fastbacks. Whenever it seems like the Seattle quartet won't live to see another record, the band launches a loogie in the face of its own demise. Sure, the punky pop on "The Day That Didn't Exist" is virtually indistinguishable from the punky pop the Fastbacks recorded in the early '80s. That's because Fastbacks records are formulaic. They all rely on familiar, candy-flavored packages of quickly resolved melodies, ripped through like the band is late for its next show.

The Fastbacks work very hard at being what they are -- a group that hasn't left the garage in 20 years, a band that saw grunge come and go without ever getting called up to the majors. "The Day That Didn't Exist," the band's 10th full-length, details 24 hours in a fictional day filled with quintessentially Fastbackian moments: fitful ruminations on freedom ("Defy's Gravity"), happiness ("One More Hour") and despair ("What's the Use?"); melodies perky enough to overshadow tales of calamity ("Have You Had Enough?"); guitar riffs that suggest the world began the day God created the Buzzcocks (all 14 songs).

It should be mentioned that guitarist Kurt Bloch, who's a guy, writes the Fastbacks' songs, and that bassist Kim Warnick, who's not a guy, sings the bulk of them. Don't mistake the arrangement for something more than it is. Bloch is no Babyface; his songs have never suggested a willingness to wear someone else's shoes. Warnick, with the occasional backup of guitarist Lulu Gargiulo (also not a guy), fleshes out Bloch's everyperson tales in a way that he never could. As a singer, Warnick is a Peppermint Patty with a hacking cough. But when she leans into a melody like the one in "I Was Stolen," a melody so full of its own energy that drummer Mike Musburger has no choice but to try to hammer it in place, she sends it into the clouds.

What's new in the Fastbacks' garage? Nothing, except for the fact that the Fastbacks are still there, recording and surviving the passage of time the only way they know how: doing this.

By Brett Anderson

Brett Anderson writes regularly for Washington's City Paper.

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