A Motown-influenced band polishes their sound to a bland finish
Fitz & the Tantrums have lost their soul – literally. Less than a decade ago, the group was singing Motown-influenced emotional soul, gilded with electro flourishes, and their 2010 single “MoneyGrabber” became a throbbing breakout hit. Then they focused more on pop on 2013’s More Than Just a Dream, earned a couple more hits and now they’ve buffed away at their sound even more on their latest record. It’s a self-titled affair but it lacks the calling cards that originally made them interesting.
Instead, they’ve defined themselves on Fitz & the Tantrums with sterile, generic pop hooks, the sort of squeaky-clean pop that’s just edgy enough for Old Navy in-store play. The album’s producers, notably Jesse Shatkin and Ricky Reed, share a C.V. of catchy, memorable hits by Sia, Fifth Harmony and Kelly Clarkson, but despite their record-making savoir faire, they’ve allowed frontman Michael Fitzpatrick and his cohorts to focus so intensely on hooks that they’ve lost the plot and buried it.
Lead single “HandClap” is a textbook overproduced wannabe hit: a sterile synth melody, insipid lyrics (“You’re like a drug to me, a luxury, my sugar and gold”) and pointlessly propulsive rhythm. And “Roll Up” – a song they believe in so much that they named their summer “Come Get Your Love” tour after one of its lyrics – sounds like a cross between old hooks by the Killers and Barenaked Ladies, but without the playfulness of either. Elsewhere, the album devolves further into blandness as they sing saccharine nothings like “I love the way you love me back” (“Tricky”), prattle on about how “we fuck and then we fight” in a cutesy way (“Complicated”) and come to the prescient revelation that “the future ain’t no guarantee” (“A Place for Us”) amid fuzzy synths. It’s pop without the pop.
Even when they try different things, it sounds forced: “Fadeback” has a new-jack swing chorus but none of the swagger or funk of Bobby Brown or Color Me Badd. “It feels just like your heart ain’t in it,” frontman Michael Fitzpatrck sings on that song. The same could be said of him.