As a child raised on the music of the ‘60s, I adore finding musicians that embrace the past in both sound and aesthetic. I was thrilled to find Fitz and the Tantrums a few years ago, a Los Angeles-based soul/indie-pop group inspired by old school Motown. Following their début Pickin’ Up the Pieces and sophomore album More Than Just a Dream, the six-person band is back with their third album, Fitz and the Tantrums.
Right off the bat, there’s a different sound about Fitz and the Tantrums. While the album still has the band’s signature sound, with Michael Fitzpatrick’s and Noelle Scaggs’s vocals and a noticeable lack of guitar, Fitz and the Tantrums edges closer to pop than indie. This shift results in an even more high energy album than usual, filled with irresistible beats and songs that you can tell will be awesome in a live performance. “We always start with a beat, and that to me is always the key to a song just creeping into your brain through your ear and not letting go,” Michael Fitzpatrick explains about their songwriting process. This certainly holds true for the tracks on Fitz and the Tantrums.
The catchiness of the songs and the carpe diem-style subject matter make for a great album for the summer. Songs like the first single “HandClap,” an anthem for a night out, and “Complicated,” a song about knowingly being in a relationship with someone bad for you both have that catchiness going for them–I found that each of the songs stuck in my head after one listen. “Roll Up,” another track about having a great night out, kept a frantic pace that made it feel like it belonged on the credits of a classic teen movie. The “Walking on Sunshine” feeling of “Walking Target” and its seize the day message keep it firmly in the realm of a feel-good summer album.
While half of the album tackles having a good time, the other half is dedicated to love, both the good and bad aspects–a subject Fitz and the Tantrums knows well. “Burn It Down,” a song about someone throwing away their relationship when things aren’t going well, feels like a throwback (or continuation) to Pickin’ Up the Pieces’s titular track, as both are straight up duets rather than harmonies between Fitzpatrick and Scaggs. On the other hand, “Do What You Want” makes masochism a theme as he chases a destructive relationship. Lyrics like “I’ll be your prisoner/I’ll take the blame/I’m never leaving you/I like the pain” make the situation crystal clear.
Another noticeable difference in this third album can be found in their sound, which carries their retro influences. The instrumentation has shifted more toward the sounds of the ‘80s than the ‘60s with a heavy dose of synthesizer. Sometimes the synth gets to be a little overpowering; songs like “Tricky” and the boyband-ish “Fadeback” both have so much synth they almost sound like an ‘80s track that is trying too hard to sound futuristic. Another drawback is repetition; pop songs are built on repeating words and phrases, but songs like “Run It” and “Tricky” are just a bit too repetitive. Diversifying the lyrics could have easily improved these songs.
The album closes with “A Place for Us,” a slower song that discusses how everyone needs to stick together to get through life. Fitz and the Tantrums usually close out their albums with a lower tempo, though the songs are not necessarily downers. The closing song is a little saccharine, but wraps the album up nicely with a combination of horns and synth, carrying its feel-good message through to the end. Overall, Fitz and the Tantrums’s third album is a fun listening experience, though some of the songs might work better as live performances rather than the home listening experience.