S/T by Fitz and the Tantrums
Genre: Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Handclap,” “Complicated,” “Fadeback,” “Run It”
There are things in this world that are simply made for each other, like Mac Demarco and Viceroy cigarettes, or confederate flags and Trump supporters. Such is the pattern for sex and pop music. The world’s greatest pop stars would not be so without covering this evocative territory, for what better way to express a human’s most primal instinct than with driving drum beats backing orgasmic vocals? The combination creates an explosively danceable incarnation of “life imitates art” mantras. From James Brown, to Prince, and even to Brittany, the recipe of said subject and content has just worked, and in a modern musical world where genre codifications are being constantly challenged, the possibilities for pop-sex brews are endless. This is not to say some don’t work better than others, however, for the combination of the two does not automatically create a hit; unfortunately, falling short can create what sounds like a half-assed attempt at Songwriting 101. The same can be said for Fitz and the Tantrums’ latest work, FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS.
Fitz and the Tantrums came to popularity by way of Motown-inspired, neo-soul tracks. Having opened for Maroon 5’s tour in 2009, the band is certainly no stranger to sex and pop, and their independence from mainstream pop gimmicks was proven on their 2013 album, MORE THAN JUST A DREAM. However, despite being three years following their sophomore release, FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS pulls away from the band’s traditional soul sensibilities and instead falls for pop tropes that never do any justice to either genre, nor to the identities of their past albums.
The 11-track album ends at a humble 36 minutes in length, which is a boon for the listener because even playing Kiss FM while waiting in LA traffic would grant them more sonic variety than what is featured on this LP. It is therefore understandable that the album opens with its first single. “Handclap” is easily the most exciting track, and probably the most distinct for its low and groovy bassline, vibrantly squealing saxophone on the chorus, and lusty, evocative lyrics like, “We could be screamin’ till the sun comes out / And when we wake we’d be the only sound.” This earworm gives you gritty and primal verses that pull the drum beat out in the pre-chorus just to propel you onto a dance floor chorus, lit by strobe lights and sticky with strawberry cosmos spilled from throwing your body every which way.
“Handclap” is the type of pop-and-sex cocktail you want to get drunk off of, but placing it at the very beginning of the album sets the listener up for disenchantment once they figure out the next ten tracks are the same cut-and-paste album-fillers that Mike Posner gave us after “Cooler Than Me” went viral. Upon finishing FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS, you can cherry-pick your favorite production details on each song, but they are too quietly mixed to have any significant impact on each song as a whole. Even the brief metallic vocoder on “Tricky” or the plucky synth xylophone riff in “Run It” do not reflect the whole of the project, which happens to be nothing more than underwhelming, clinical pop tracks. Songs like “Get Right Back” and “Fadeback” are the closest the band gets to their signature nostalgic texture from their past work, but the style is quickly adulterated by “Walking Target,” a song probably dug out of Meghan Trainor’s garbage can.
Album continuity is arguably absent on FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS, but only because every song basically sounds like someone just discovered premade drum tracks in Garageband and their mom bought them a single-knob synthesizer for Christmas. Lyrically, most songs after the first track fumble back and forth over the line of winsome yearning and primitive desire, such as “Roll Up” and “Complicated,” respectively, but the album closer “A Place for Us” is oddly a call for unity between “all you broken renegades,” and sticks out thematically the way a ballad would have on this strictly uptempo album.
Fitz and the Tantrums were either overly bold or completely uninspired when deciding to make this album their self-titled. If a work is self-titled because it radiates the essence of its creator(s), then FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS represents the incontinence aisle at Rite-Aid and sodium-free Lean Cuisine. The soulful persona of Fitz and the Tantrums is quickly watered down on this album for its slavery to predictable verse-chorus dance beats and pedantic lyrics and instrumentation, and in doing so, it spoils the expressive liberation characteristic of the image they have been building up for the past eight years. In a generation where most Top 40 songs are a mélange of genres everywhere between R&B, trap, EDM, and rock, FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS represents neither pop nor soul, nor any effervescent fusion of the two. In fact, it fails to reach beyond any stylistic codification at all and instead monotonously settles for cheap thrills that leave you both undersexed and underpopped.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend