After the runaway success of their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces, retro-soul act Fitz and the Tantrums were faced with a unique challenge. Retro acts draw their popularity from drawing upon the emotions and feelings of so-called glory days, but the flip side of this double-edged sword is that if the sound in question went out of vogue once, it will do so again, eventually. Fitz had to find a way to ride the success of their 60’s soul sound into the next season without losing relevance.
Their answer was a highly creative and clever one: expand the 80’s dance/New Wave element that was already hinted at within their soul sound. The result: More Than Just a Dream.
It’s a brilliant stroke, actually. Right now, electro-dance is experiencing a bit of a New Wave revival much the same way soul started reviving a couple of years ago. For Fitz, it was not so much a matter of changing genres as it was taking certain elements of their sound and playing them differently. Thus, More Than Just a Dream carries much the same energy as their debut album had, but it’s just different enough to keep the interest of their fans while promoting a natural evolution for the band.
Neo-soul enthusiasts can relax; there is still plenty of that element on this record, most notably in tracks like “Keepin’ Our Eyes Out”, “House On Fire” and “Get Away.” But on the opening track “Out Of My League” and the follow-up “Break the Walls” the synths and 80’s drum patterns send a clear message that Fitz and the Tantrums are not to be defined by one decade. There are also tips-of-the-hat to disco (“Last Raindrop”), hip-hop (“6am”) and even 70’s pop (“The End”), further demonstrating the diversity of Michael Fitzpatrick and his crew in crafting their collective sound.
Even so, it would be a mistake to call this a New Wave/dance album, because that is far too limiting a description. Think of it more as an expansion of the musical palette of Fitz and the Tantrums to be relevant beyond just the 60’s soul sound that forms their roots. And lest anyone get the idea that this broader musical expansion weakens the album’s cohesiveness, the one thing that ties all of these elements together neatly is probably the most important aspect: terrific hooks and strong, sing-able/chant-able choruses. Fitz have built a reputation around their energetic live performances, and the lion’s share of these tunes are tailor-made for crowd participation.
There are no doubt going to be some critics who will pan More Than Just a Dream as a musical anomaly, pointing to it as evidence of a new band who have already lost their sense of direction. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, I think this is the most forward-thinking album Fitz and the Tantrums could have made. Not only does it soundly disprove the notion that they are a one-trick pony; it also proves conclusively that this is a band with many more tricks up their collective sleeve, laying the groundwork for a third, fourth and even fifth album. What some might dismiss as a mis-step, I call a stroke of genius.