Of all their albums, it’s somewhat worrying that Fitz & the Tantrums decided to self-title this one. If an act self-titles an album other than their debut, it usually signifies a sense that this sound is the most “true” to the identity of the band. Unfortunately in the case of Fitz & the Tantrums, the album is the band’s weakest by far, abandoning the soul revival of their earlier work for utterly generic and disposable pop music.
The group was never particularly original, as their Motown-revival roots reveal, but their original 2009-2010 form at least stood out from the crowded indie music scene. Their 2013 album More Than Just A Dream grafted their soul sound onto a more standard indie-pop template, and whilst it bore some catchy songs like The Walker, it was largely weaker than their debut. Fitz & the Tantrums completes the group’s transformation into a straight pop band, excising all the soul elements that made their early work unique. What replaces it is a dramatic turn for the worse, however, comprised of generic 2000’s pop production, without the catchy melodies necessary to succeed in the genre.
Opener HandClap is indicative of the overall style (and by extension, flaws) of the album. The drums are insistent and the bassline is relatively hummable (in spite of following a very simple, 4-note structure), but singer Michael Fitzpatrick gives a bland, almost monotone vocal performance, which is then put through overbearing filters, giving the impression that the usually competent singer is actually not. The lyrics are also largely banal and meaningless. The central hook is “I can make your hands clap”, which is ironic, since the it’s the vocals which detract so much from the vaguely danceable instrumental.
Other tracks exhibit similar problems with the vocals and lyrics, but with weaker instrumentals. The band succeeds when simply shooting for danceable beats, but the moment emotion and melody enter the fray, an unmistakable cheesiness overtakes the album. Burn It Down is built around a saccharine piano melody, which is transformed into a weak EDM drop in the chorus, complete with “whoosh” effects in the transitions. It sounds like a more amateur imitation of more successful pop music, as though it was created from a pop starter kit. The rest of the album continues misusing techniques and sounds apace, such as the autotune which only seeks to smooth the vocals into an uncomfortable, uncanny-valley space on Do What You Want.
Self-titling an album as derivative and bland as Fitz & the Tantrums is a poor choice, as it could potentially forever attach the band’s identity to their weakest work. Between the unimpressive vocals performances, largely nonsensical lyrics, and uninspired instrumentals, little about the album works. If Fitz & the Tantrums is to be the band’s defining statement, it’s possible they just don’t have much worth saying.