Friday, July 12, 2013

More Than Just a Dream, But a Great Album

Don't they know, the speaker is about to explode?
Don't they know, this building is about to blow?

Headphones don’t do it justice.

That’s the best way to sum up how I feel about “More Than Just a Dream,” the second effort from Fitz & the Tantrums.

The album is big. It’s grand. It’s all-encompassing. It’s consuming. It fills up the space.

So much of my music listening occurs with headphones in my ears. Whether it’s at the gym, in my office, at home writing or taking the Metro to and from work, I always seem to have headphones on. For some albums, this is preferred. For this album, it is not.

Fitz and the Tantrums Album Cover
Every time I listen to it, I want to turn the volume up. It can’t be loud enough because the room can’t be big enough. It’s an arena-dominating record disguised as a throwback and the result is truly a sound unlike what other bands are producing in 2013.

When I wrote about the Strokes’ last album, I led off by saying that I didn’t know what to make of the record. I had to put it away for a week because it didn’t sound like the Strokes. It didn’t sound like what I thought it would. Simply put, it didn’t immediately grab me.

With “More Than Just a Dream,” the album knows what it is – and thus, what it will be – from note 1 of song 1. You know what you’re in for and it instantly grabs you. You know the sound. You like the sound. You want more of the sound.

What has fascinated me about Fitz & the Tantrums from the first time I heard them was their supposed throwback vibe that the media latched onto for its debut album. At that point, the label seemed to make sense – the first album did feel like an album from 25 years ago dressed up and modernized for the 2010s.

This album, however, does not. While there are clearly elements – the back & forth between the male & female leads, the brass sections, the pounding drums, the up-tempo beats – that are taken from different eras, they combine to form a new sound. It’s not exactly the “Sound of the Future” that Daft Punk is endlessly striving for, but it stands out. It’s very difficult to stand out musically in 2013 because it feels like everything has already been done. This album, however, has not.

The best part, and why this album crawls into your consciousness while refusing to leave, is the intensity. Fitz & the Tantrums are a tremendous live act. On stage, they bounce around and bring enough energy for a crowd of any size to feed off of. Many times, great live acts fail to bring that to their records. Most famously, KISS couldn’t translate its live show to vinyl until they actually just went ahead and recording a live show.

On “More Than Just a Dream,” the energy never leaves. There is urgency to the album that never stops. There are no lulls. There are no dull moments. There is no portion where you think to yourself – well, they really mailed this song in. Even if there are some tracks that aren’t standouts – I’m not a big fan of #3 The Walker – they put so much heart, soul and intensity into the track that you’re never tempted to hit skip.

The strongest part of the album is tracks 4 through 6 – Spark, 6am and Fools Good.

Spark is the standout track and, of course, what I quote to begin this post. It encapsulates everything I like about Fitz and Tantrums. It’s catchy. It’s grandiose. It explodes through the speakers – and they sing about speakers exploding. It’s not the type of socially conscious song that critics adore. It’s just a damn good 3-minute song that will get your foot tapping, your head nodding and your heart bumping. And if you’re at a party, it’s the type of song that makes you stop in mid-conversation and say, “Damn, that’s a good song.”

6am keeps up the energy in a different light, with a quieter beat and more significant subject matter – the loss of a lover. Only Fitz could make you smile and air-drum along to what is actually a really, really depressing song if you dwell on the lyrics. But you can’t because the song is so damn enjoyable that it makes you smile – as if you know he’s depressed, he knows he’s depressed, but it’s all good because we have this song.

The trio of perfection ends with Fools Good, another lyrically sad song that could have gone off the rails quickly with the first lyric, “Oh maybe I just wasn’t good enough to blow your mind, you know I’ve tried.” In the hands of Jason Mraz or John Mayer, that lyric kicks off a painfully pathetic song about self-loathing and failure.

In the hands of Fitz and the Tantrums, the lyrics are depressing and longing – but spun ahead to searching for “something better for the next time.” The positivity during the depths of despair is something we all strive for, whether we admit to or not, and Fitz and the Tantrums delivers every time.

In the end, that may be the album’s, and the band’s, strongest suit. It’s happy. It puts a smile on your face. It’s an old-school band with an old-school sound and an old-school motivation.

Fitz and the Tantrums are putting on a show. They exist to entertain you.

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