More than anything else we do here, we enjoy shining our spotlight on the underrated and unknown bands otherwise lost in a sea of overhyped future has-beens. As rewarding as it is, it’s not a hard job; Even when we miss or ignore promising blips on our radar, you guys pick up the slack.
Case in point: A couple of you recently hipped us to a new track by Fitz & The Tantrums, a band that has been right under our noses for over a year now. After hearing Money Grabber, I made a call and got my hands on an advance of their debut LP, Pickin’ Up The Pieces. And I’ve been listening to it non-stop ever since.
The six-piece band features a keyboardist, a sax/flute player, a bassist, a drummer, and two vocalists: Noelle Scaggs, a gospel / R&B singer who has worked with Dilated Peoples (and The Black Eyed Peas, which we won’t hold against her) backs up the man known only as Fitz, who sounds like Neil Diamond but looks like the barista who made your coffee this morning. That’s right, an undercover soul man.
Even if Fitz & company were to fall through a wormhole while performing and land in 1967, they wouldn’t be greeted as great innovators. Their sound is traditional genre to the point of being unabashedly cliché more often than not. Yet you can’t dispute the album’s consistency, on any plane of space-time.
There are no duds to be found out of ten on Pickin’ Up The Pieces. The tracks that stretch the clichés the thinnest justify doing so by being the catchiest damn sweets on the album. L.O.V.’s chorus, on paper, is a painfully bad pickup line: “L.O.V. for you and me / That’s just the way it’s gotta be (repeat…)” Yet that stupid line playing through my head kept bringing me back not only to the album, but to the song itself, with its anthemic chorus and clap-along breakdown designed for the end credits following a happy ending.
Though despite that occasional bright, sunny technicolor chorus, like the one found on opening track Breakin’ The Chains Of Love, Pickin’ Up The Pieces is most certainly a breakup album, and is borne of bitterness and loss first, and a crippled hope second.
Songs like Money Grabber are direct of course: “Don’t come back / anytime / You’ve already run me dry / This is your payback / money grabber…” And Don’t Gotta Work It Out is downright devilishly vicious: “We don’t / gotta work it out / ‘Cause no one’s / gonna tell you where to find me / when you / come lookin’ for me / ‘Cause I’ll be walking out the door before you know it and you better believe…”
There’s just one factor that takes away from the relevance and impact of such emotionally inspired expression of thoughts and feelings we’ve all savored or suffered through; Their delivery comes through sounds and even lyrical phrases that are ages-old, that we’ve been hearing and singing along to for years before Fitz came along.
Furthermore, I’ve been told that the album doesn’t quite do justice to Fitz & The Tantrums’ energetic live show, through which these songs have been evolving beyond the snapshots committed to tape. This is a complaint I’ve had and voiced for several albums by great bands who built audiences through live shows before releasing a debut that was recorded and being readied for release all along.
However, to discredit a collection of recordings based on future versions by a more mature incarnation of the band would be to disrespect the album format that we revere. Pickin’ Up The Pieces passes muster with a high standard for song craftsmanship, and a timeless sincerity despite the considerably well-worn bag of tricks.
To answer the question inherently presented by anything retro, this band’s debut represents a true revival, rather than an exhumation; Without heart, you’re just a zombie, and Fitz & The Tantrums are not lacking anything in that category. In fact, many of the compositions on Pickin’ Up The Pieces are so perfect and full of conviction that it’s hard not to call them classics without exaggeration. To say that the swaggering, funky street corner sermon Rich Girls one-ups the likes of Mark Ronson and Wino and Duffy is not saying enough, and to say that the flawless, heartstring-plucking album-closer Tighter gives Elton John a run for his money might not even be saying too much.
To learn more about Fitz & The Tantrums, and to download that free track that finally caught our attention, head over to fitzandthetantrums.com.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.