The practice of ‘selling out’ is one that tends to be the point of call whenever an act undergoes any sort of change in sound. It’s often misused as well, with the true definition being a shift towards the mainstream with the sole purpose of garnering attention from said mainstream. And while it’s a term often used pejoratively, bands like Bring Me The Horizon and Fall Out Boy have shown that it is possible to yield decent results even after a major pivot away from their roots.
On the other hand, there’s Fitz And The Tantrums, who have seemingly created their self-titled third album to abide by any and all preconceptions on what selling out is. Their 2010 debut Pickin’ Up The Pieces was an album of indie-style soul that was charming if a bit rough around the edges, but six years later, they could be a completely different band. Synth-driven indie-pop (with a much greater focus on the pop) is now the order of the day, and while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, Fitz And The Tantrums’ efforts have resulted in an album that’s catchy on impact, but is dragged down by soulless and empty content.
On a surface level, Fitz And The Tantrums is perfectly fine as a soundtrack for any sort of exuberance, but a surface level is really the only thing it has. And while that isn’t a problem from the view of the party or the casual listen, in an environment where evaluation is key, there really isn’t much there to dig into. Apart from HandClap and Fadeback, there’s precious little to actually gain from these tracks, and anything that does manage to sneak through dissipates within the space of a few minutes. It’s an album that feels as though it’s been exhausted within one or two listens, such is the supreme dearth of actual content present under its shiny outer shell.
And then there’s the actual music, and while it’s already been established that Fitz And The Tantrums have undergone a severe change, quite why they’ve opted for this isn’t understandable at all. While their original, Motown-inspired sound wasn’t groundbreaking by any means, it at least had a bit of character; this is Maroon 5 levels of radio pandering, a stiff, sterile mess of the most egregious elements of ’80s pop with the most egregious elements of modern pop. There are definitely nice touches, such as the fluttering synths on Do What You Want, but these are drastically overshadowed by an ethos that seems to be ‘if it’s current, it’s better’. The teeth-itchingly chopped vocal fragments that appear on Burn It Down have never sounded good, and here is no exception, and the blocky synth-line of Get Right Back almost drowns the vocals out completely. As for the vocals themselves, Michael Fitzpatrick has a decent voice but nowhere near enough personality to carry these songs, and Noelle Scaggs (easily the more talented of the two singers) is a completely underused resource, reduced to a backing vocalist and only given four bars to really shine on Burn It Down.
In terms of what they should have been going for, Fitz And The Tantrums dramatically misses the mark. It’s a pop album that somehow manages to be completely forgettable, only ever bringing some genuinely solid moments up very sparingly. It’s a shame as well, because this would have been a much better album if built out of these – HandClap has a really solid bassline and horn section and A Place For Us rounds the album off with some real swell and bombast. But wishing for an album that encapsulates these features is pretty much a lost cause; this is an album designed to be experienced in the spur of the moment, and as a danceable, shallow effort, it achieves that. But this sort of thing has a half life, and this album’s is dangerously short. For a party soundtrack, Fitz And The Tantrums have got you covered, but beyond that, prepare to be sorely disappointed.
For fans of: Walk The Moon, Maroon 5, The Heavy
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Fitz And The Tantrums’ by Fitz And The Tantrums is out now on WEA International / Elektra Records.