Release Date: Jun 10, 2016
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Soul
Fitz & the Tantrums' third full-length record is a fun, exuberant album that finds the Los Angeles outfit moving completely away from their old-school R&B roots and embracing a slick, contemporary dance-pop style. Even on their second album, 2013's More Than Just a Dream, Fitz & the Tantrums were already experimenting with shaking up the '60s Motown influence of their debut with an '80s-style new wave sound built around producer Tony Hoffer's vibrant synths, punchy electric guitars, and even electronic flourishes. It was a savvy move and resulted in a robust production rife with catchy hooks that still maximized the dual lead vocals of Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs.
Fitz & the Tantrums have lost their soul – literally. Less than a decade ago, the group was singing Motown-influenced emotional soul, gilded with electro flourishes, and their 2010 single "MoneyGrabber" became a throbbing breakout hit. Then they focused more on pop on 2013's More Than Just a Dream, earned a couple more hits and now they've buffed away at their sound even more on their latest record.
The slight revisions in sound between Fitz and the Tantrums’ first two albums (especially their 2013 commercial breakthrough More Than Just a Dream) and their new self-titled third record are almost intangible, so much so that any criticism one could levy at their latest effort could also easily be a condemnation of its subtly superior predecessors. The songs on Fitz and the Tantrums adhere to the cold designs of musical formula, for example, but the band has always relied on conventional songwriting structure to better channel their energies elsewhere; their lyrics boil down to generic pop platitudes, but the Tantrums have always stuck to bizarre imitations of classic soul lyrics and that has never been their appeal anyway. The music is soft, sleek, and simple, infectious but ultimately frivolous, and yet that perfectly describes their solidly pleasurable 2010 debut Pickin’ Up the Pieces.
There are those who would tell you that rock is dead, that it has no new vistas left to explore or discover, that kids these days with their internet and their iPhones just don’t have same heart or gumption that we did back in “the day.” Most nights, I can recognize these claims as the bitter lamentations of the willfully out-of-touch. Most nights. But tonight I’m listening to a new Fitz and the Tantrums album.
To echo the infamous words of Greil Marcus, what is this shit? It is not everyday that an album can elicit genuine feelings of pain in me, but with the self-titled record from one-time neo-soul group Fitz and the Tantrums, I have been reminded that the feeling is possible. This LP is truly a grueling exercise in patience, especially for someone who has been a fan since the band's occasionally thrilling 2010 debut, Pickin' Up The Pieces. Whereas the dangerously catchy tracks of that record were built on the back of a homespun soul sound -- vintage organs, saxophones and a purposeful aversion to more modern instrumentation -- Fitz and the Tantrums sounds as though its songs were crafted in a lab by scientists striving to make perfect commercial-ready pop.
Fitz and the Tantrums’ joyous, modern-Motown modus operandi translates best in concert, but the LA sextet comes close to capturing the foot-stomping energy of its live shows on at least the first half of its self-titled third LP. From propulsive opener “HandClap,” as infectious as anything in the Top 40, to anthemic single “Roll Up,” the album proves emphatically that Fitz can still craft a catchy chorus. But the band’s glossiest record yet seems geared toward merging its brassy, retro-glam aesthetic with a commercial-minded agenda.