The Phantom Tollbooth

550 Music
11 tracks/42:06

With the glut of alternative rock one-hit wonder bands that always seems to be present on the airways, Fuel probably isn't a band that stands that far apart from bands like Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Egyle Eye Cherry, and Eve 6.  But if there's one thing that separates Fuel from the rest of the pack, it's that these guys are really, really, good.

Fuel is a major force in a market many consider band-dead, the Pennsylvania-Maryland-Virginia area, having built a large local following and selling more than 10,000 copies of their indie albums. The maturity that the band has gained is significant; sloppy musicianship and songwriting are not a problem on this record.  In what is probably the most surprising demonstration of the band's maturity, there is not a single profanity on the album, which is significant when compared to other recent alternative hit bands.

Fuel has also built an interesting, engaging sound during their years of touring and indie release.  Chock-full of metallic guitars and riffs, combined with some acoustic parts, steady bass lines, solid drum work, and the slightly snotty punk vocals of Brett Scallions, probably most similar to the lead singer of Bleach, Dave Baysinger.  Coupled with the excellent production of Steven Haigler, Fuel's songs have an intensity and intelligence that fully engages the listener's senses.

Fuel does an excellent job of balancing the pop demands of an alternative band with their harder rock sensibilities, though occasionally they slide too far one way on the scale.  Songs like the radio hit "Shimmer" probably best exemplify this delicate balance, while songs like " Mary Pretends," an all out rocker with absolutly blistering rock sensibilites coupled with punk aggresion and structure, make for an enjoyable slide to the other end of the scale.

Fuel also has some interesting lyrics, which being full of religious touchstones are especially noteworthy for Christians.  In the song "Jesus or a Gun," the lead singer wails:

This theme, apparently accepting Jesus as the only way and yet rejecting Him at the same time, is continued in several other songs, such as "Sunburn": Then again in the song "New Thing": Fuel does an excellent job with this record, providing a solid debut if ever there was one. There is the occasional bum song on the album, but these are best explained as old songs simply carried over from their indie days.  The great sound Fuel has developed, coupled with further maturity and new material, should make for an interesting career for these boys from Pennsylvania.

By Joe Rockstroh        1/26/99