All the slickness money can buy

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They’ve gotten fancy, those guys in Fastball have.

Not content to just hammer out ear-catching tunes, the Austin, Texas-based trio have upped the production ante on its third album, The Harsh Light of Day.

They’ve done away with two-second pauses between tracks. They’ve thrown in oboes and strings into their arrangements. They’ve included sound effects of trains and an interlude of French bistro music. They even got Brian Setzer and Billy Preston who played with the Beatles to play on a track or two.

In short, Fastball has created an overly ambitious album that just reeks of “Hey! Look at us! We’re a success!”

But do all these bells and whistles add anything to the songs? Not too much, really.

This batch isn’t as immediately catchy as the ones on All the Pain Money Can Buy, Fastball’s breakthrough album from 1998, but after a few spins on the CD player, they’re no less polished or accomplished either.

At the same time, all those little extras don’t seem to be all that necessary. Maybe if The Harsh Light of Day was intended to be some sort of song cycle or grand statement on the level of a Radiohead album, this intentional over-production would sound at home.

A more cynical critic would accuse the band of trying to hide a set of less immediately-gratifying songs behind studio tricks, but really — that’s not the case when you’re dealing with a band that’s skillfully giving alternative rock a twang without being No Depression-blatant about it.

Die-hard Fastball fans would probably call The Harsh Light of Day a really big step in the band’s musical maturity. The rest of us can just enjoy it as nice, slick number.