First off, I’m not a music critic. Secondly, my personal taste in music is pretty darned terrible. Thirdly, I’ve been trying to finish this article since June 1st, which should tell you how much I’m not a music critic. But it also points to how many other more important things have cropped up.
And that’s my one (long) sentence review of this whole endeavor:
Barry Zito absolutely sounds like a man who made approximately $146 million dollars over 16 years of pro ball in and used that money to build or rent out a professional music studio space to record a professional grade music album for no other reason than that he could.
Look, the man’s entitled to do whatever he pleases with his money. There are worse things he could do with it, too; making a music album falls under the label of Totally Harmless. And yet, that doesn’t answer the biggest question I have after listening to this album off and on for half the calendar year: Why?
His debut album, “No Secrets”, has no clear reason for being other than to serve as a vanity project for the former Cy Young winner. Is that such a bad thing? No! But it makes reviewing it difficult because I automatically don’t consider it to be an artistic expression but an exercise in entrepreneurship. Which is also not bad, but again, what am I reviewing?
I’ve decided that this album is what would happen if that dude in the dorms who always played his acoustic guitar was given money to produce his album and had the lead time of one year. Join me on this voyage through the track list:
TRACK 1: “Secret to Life”
The very first line of the very first track on the very first album of Barry Zito’s professional music career goes, “It ain’t about the money that you got in the bank.” This, perhaps, is the most telling line of the entire project: “Yeah, I’m rich, but I’ve got a heart” feels like its mission statement.
Zito holds up his public persona -- his money, his success, his apparent ability to be a heartbreaker — and says that his biggest failure in life was chasing and believing in all these things, letting the world dictate what he should deem important. And now, in his late 30s, he has much more wisdom and perspective on things and proclaims that everything he thought was important really isn’t and that realizing that has been his breakthrough.
But Zito doesn’t get specific so this song doesn’t really hold any weight. Like the “ain’t about the money” or “the records”, there are subtle nods to his public persona, but there’s nothing that says THIS SONG IS ABOUT ME, which could be fine, except without any specifics, this song is almost too generic to be about anybody and therefore a too vanilla introduction to a singer/songwriter and what he’s all about. Barry Zito’s baseball career was defined by that curveball and karma boy cool, but his country music career kicks off with a cover of Country_Music_Song_Template 1.doc.
Bryan, what does he say the secret of life is?
SPOILER ALERT: this dude baldly claims, “I may not know the secret to life, but I know what it’s not.” I mean, Barry... come on. I wanted to hear what you had discovered to be the secret to life. Instead, we get the lyrical equivalent of stepping off the mound.
Barry Zito’s 2007 debut season with the Giants.
TRACK 2: “Wrong”
Now this song feels more like a country song. It’s not “Jolene” or “Diggin’ Up Bones” or even “Thunder Road”, but it’s about regret and lost love and those ideas feel quintessentially country music to this lame-ass city boy.
Zito lives in Nashville now (according to this article), and he spent a big chunk of his life around Major League Baseball players, so the sudden nasal twang and southern drawl aren’t wildly out of place in a country song and out of Zito’s mouth, but for a guy whose public persona is that of a Zenlike Chillbro, it’s tough to square. It’s the false beat that pulls me out of the song momentarily and reminds me that this whole project is possibly a bit more commerce than art.
But, the actual strengths are that it’s not terrible, there’s a very nice violin accompaniment that really amps up the heartache component, and it actually goes into slightly more detail than that opening track. We still don’t get any real sense of who Barry Zito is as a human being. Indeed, any dude driving a pickup truck and wearing a flannel shirt is invited to project himself into the song’s main character – who is really just Barry Zito. And it’s after these first two songs where I began to get a sense of Zito’s flaws as a songwriter.
Bryan, what is he wrong about?
He was wrong about leaving this girl. It took a random encounter with her (they are both stopped at the same traffic light and see each other from their cars) to realize this.
TRACK 3: “Hearts I Didn’t Break”
Like a miracle you covered me with a hundred second chances. Yeah you came along and saved… the hearts I didn’t break…
Barry Zito was a real heartbreaker in his baseball career, it seems, until he met her: The One. This magical woman made Barry Zito an honest man, except those times he might’ve cheated on her, but because he still only wanted her at the end of the day, and she was willing to forgive his misdeeds, he eventually settled down and this song thanks her for that forgiveness and how the power of that forgiveness saved him from breaking the hearts of other women.
Female backup vocals in this one and, given the nature of this song, I can’t help but think they’re his wife doing the vocals (I’m not going to bother looking it up because, to me, it’s a better story). It’s also funnier to think that Barry Zito asked his wife, Amber Seyer, to perform on his album in the song about his days on the road. Then again, maybe there’s some country music trope about the man being a worthless pile of garbage who can only be redeemed through the love and forgiveness of his steadfast, perfect wife and having her sing backup vocals is the strongest way to convey that…
Because, again, the lyrics don’t really lean into any grand idea. They’re very surface-y recitation of events bolstered by decent vocals.
Bryan, whose hearts did he not break?
All the Baseball Annie’s he didn’t have a chance to sleep with because he finally decided to commit to one woman.
San Francisco 2010 season.
TRACK 4: “Undiscovered You”
I want to know your sacred places, I want to see inside your secrets, I want to know what lies behind those deep blue eyes.
Barry Zito is a man in search of meaning. That’s the only idea I have about him through four tracks of his debut country music album. Here’s a song talking about all the things he wants to know about the person he’s with, which suggests he has an egocentrism that prevents him from knowing anything about the person he’s with. Does he not listen to his partner?
This song doesn’t really suggest that he knows anything about his partner – I’m not suggesting he doesn’t have any sort of relationship with his wife, but I’m suggesting he’s trying to write a song about forming an intimate bond with a romantic partner (good idea for a song) but without any of the specificity that makes that idea feel universal.
There’s not much feeling in Zito’s work and by this point in the album we’re all just swimming in the exquisitely produced sound. But this track, like the ones before it, feel immature and uncreative.
Bryan, is this “undiscovered” in the exploration sense or “undiscovered” as in “unlearning” or “forgetting about you” way?
What? This is a dumb question.
San Francisco 2008.
TRACK 5: “My Own Path”
I’m still learning who I am and there’s victory in that. And I’m still carving my own path...
I… I… me… me…
These feel like the most consistent words in Barry Zito’s lyrics. But these songs are not confessional. At least not intentionally. The sum total of Barry Zito’s knowledge appears to be baseball and himself.
At one point in the song, Zito says “I can be stubborn as an oak”, which sounds more like a pandering country idiom than a genuine reflection of who he is. Barry Zito is stubborn? Has that ever gotten him into trouble before?
The song does suggest that for all his wealth and relative fame, Barry Zito feels like he’s locked into a path the world has set out for him and not one of his own creation. And I think this could be a genuine notion for him to explore in his art going forward. But at this point in my review and after listening to this song for the umpteenth time, I’m reminded of another article about this album which said that Zito didn’t even come up with the idea for producing this album – it came from his music manager.
Bryan, does he give a timetable for completion of his own path?
Nah. It sounds like one of those government-funded freeway improvement projects that have definitive end dates but last a generation.
San Francisco 2009.
TRACK 6: “Home”
This song has the most obvious use of autotuning on the entire album and I found that a bit surprising. Technically, Barry Zito sounds to be as good or better than the aforementioned dorm guitarist and even if his voice sounds more nasally than I imagined, it works for the most part, so to hear clear computerization at the very end of the album sticks out. Then again, if you’ve got the money and you want it to sound “good”, then it makes sense. But, to me, the “obvious” imperfections are what make something artistic.
Anyway, back to the song itself – here’s Barry Zito talking about how the rise and fall of his baseball career (baseball is not explicitly mentioned) helped him realize that he had gotten away from his roots and what really mattered: home. He got lost in the world, dealing with lies and other people’s priorities, but when it was all said and done and he had nothing left of what he worked for (except the money) he still had home.
So, there’s definitely a Barry Zito who has done some reflection and seems to be aware of what happened to him over the course of his career in relation to his personal life, and he sounds grateful to be able to go back to where he started.
This is a good idea! Barry appreciates what he has and respects everything that’s happened to him in his life’s journey! Can’t take away any of that.
The song itself is pretty basic and doesn’t feature anything intriguing. If you hate country music, you could put this on and easily ignore it. I don’t know what it says about the genre, but I know what it says about the artist.
Bryan, do you think “Home” is supposed to be a double meaning? Y’know, because of home plate in the game of baseball?
Hmm… maybe! Barry Zito’s conscious decision to avoid any direct references to baseball definitely stands out and feels like it robs some of the specificity from the art – but then again, he’s the first Cy Young Award winner to place on a Billboard chart and he avoids all the obvious baseball titling clichés that Bronson Arroyo could not.
If we’re to grade Barry Zito on a curveball here, this is definitely not one of his best, and it’s not one of his worst. I would say that this is Barry Zito throwing an 88mph fastball in 2010. Nobody thought he had it in him, but then he showed us all what he has within him, and even though we were all surprised and maybe even appreciated the effort, in the end, we just kinda smiled and moved on.
Kinda like what we should all do in terms of thinking about 2017. Happy New Year!
(You can listen to the whole album on Spotify.)