Release Date: May 7, 2013
Record label: Elektra
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Soul
This six-piece Los Angeles pop-soul group, led by studio engineer-turned-singer-songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick, is all about irrepressible energy: hopped-up rhythms, shout-it-out choruses, hooted background vocals. On their 2010 debut, Pickin' Up the Pieces, FATT were soul revivalists, and though you can still hear plenty of Motown in the beat and the booming production, they've tossed in lots more: hip-hop, electro, jittery New Wave and even a dash of Mumford & Sons in their shouty choruses. But the pleasures of the songcraft don't quite compensate for dopey lyrics, the bland vocals of Fitz and co-lead singer Noelle Scaggs, and the relentless spazzing-out.
The follow-up to their 2010 debut album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, Fitz & the Tantrums' 2013 album, More Than Just a Dream, finds the band expanding upon its vintage soul sound with a more contemporary dance-pop aesthetic. On Pickin' Up the Pieces, Fitz & the Tantrums showcased a '60s soul and R&B approach that mixed sample beats with old-school horns and keyboards, much in the same way Amy Winehouse did on her breakthrough 2006 album, Back to Black. Rather than revisit that sound, Fitz & the Tantrums have clearly decided to update the approach, and More Than Just a Dream finds the band delving into a variety of electronic dance sounds that touch upon '80s new wave, disco, and blue-eyed soul.
On their debut album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, Fitz and the Tantrums were retro-soul revivalists with new-wave panache. It was an all-killer, hooks-galore smash, built on the band’s roomy Wrecking Crew grooves and the sassy sexual tension of co-vocalists “Fitz” Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. Their hi-fi sequel More than Just a Dream flips the script, drawing out their ‘80s synth fetish.
It’s perhaps expected that Fitz & the Tantrums would layer on the gloss for their second full-length. There’s certainly precedent in all the other times similarly hard-working up-and-comers have found themselves garnering attention and able to spend decent money on recording for once. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with a bit (or in the case of someone like Queen or Depeche Mode, a lot) of studio trickery, unless one holds to the absolutist purist notion that the only honest records are those slathered in bedroom-borne, done-in-one cassette tape-hiss.
When Nick Lowe used the term “pure pop for now people” he could have been describing Fitz and the Tantrums’ second record. The LA band’s debut, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” was a stylish (albeit somewhat mannered) slice of blue-eyed soul. The group wisely broadens the musical palette here and goes full-bore pop by adding bigger choruses, alluring sonic textures, and electronic rhythms.
Fitz And The Tantrums’ first album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces, was an anomaly in pop music: a fun, upbeat retro-soul/funk/R&B hybrid that sounded remarkably fresh, thanks in part to frontman Michael Fitzpatrick’s surprisingly pissed-off lyrics and saxophonist James King’s perfectly sculpted horn lines. Unfortunately, nearly everything that made Fitz And The Tantrums interesting has been thrown out the window for More Than Just A Dream. Fitzpatrick has run out of anything interesting to say, instead relying on awful clichés (“Break The Walls”), and the saxophone has been traded in for stacks of schmaltzy synths.