2011 was the year of 2010. Coincidentally 2010 was apparently the year of the 1960s. But even then it took a year for people to start catching on to the ’60s sounds of Fitz and the Tantrums. In August, when Annie and I caught Fitz and the Tantrums at the inaugural edition of Rock the Green in Milwaukee, the fact they were playing in the early afternoon was a shock. A short time later, they were playing a better slot at a festival in Madison, and honestly 2012 should be the year they start headlining festivals. If not, I call touring travesty.
Pickin’ Up The Pieces is a trip down memory lane that, contrary to many revivalists, feels authentic in the way it doesn’t seek to merge current music trends with the old. From the Conn organ kicking off “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” till the reminiscing-inducing nostalgia of “Tighter,” the debut makes a compelling case to toss in the towel on modernity and live permanently in the past. The firestarter of a first track doesn’t truly draw you in until the chorus ratchets upwards with James King’s bari sax and the simplicity of Noelle Scaggs’ tambourine. It isn’t just those instruments, but mastery of classic soul and funk melodies as in the slides over the keys and claps (and “woo!”), especially on “Dear Mr. President” or the flute introducing the title track “Pickin’ Up The Pieces.”
The remarkable thing about the debut is the sheer difficulty it is trying to place Pickin’ Up The Pieces in today’s time. “Rich Girls” is the only song that remotely feels modern, due mostly to the decrying chorus. The slinky swing punctuated by the organ highlights Fitz’s sermon, delivering himself from a link of his constraints of romance. Side note: the album comes out of a break-up…don’t all the best albums come out of that? Other than “Rich Girls,” its monetary mirror of “MoneyGrabber” is a prime example of a melody that, with its condemnation and ensuing liberation in the lyrics, is what I imagine a 1960s, overly enthusiastic Motown producer would label a hit, send it to the presses, let those jukeboxes spin those 45s, and all those cool kids would then be dancing to.
Fitz and the Tantrums uncompromisingly dipped into the past with the authenticity that only Doc’s DeLorean could deliver. Trying to figure out where a band like them are moving towards is a conundrum, since the only guess I could be is lyrics broken free from the past and moving on as hinted by “Winds of Change.” Gal and guys, you’ve got this listener (and many more) hooked like those “clothes on the line” and waiting apprehensively for the second album, just don’t hang us out to dry (if so, we’ll always have “Tighter” to hold on to).