When Fitz And The Tantrums’ Pickin’ Up The Pieces hit in 2010, it rode the wave of retro-soul artists throwbacking to the classic sounds of Motown and Stax Records. The group’s superb “MoneyGrabber” had the horns, the punchy bass, and the sweat of late-’60s soul down to a T. And while that’s fun for a bit, how far could that go, really? Luckily for them, there are more decades of great sounds to choose from, and for this go-around, The Tantrums set their sights on the ’80s and early ’90s. More Than Just A Dream is a leap for the band sonically, one that would deserve more credit if Fitz and company weren’t still taking so much from the past.
Yet this Dream still manages to be entertaining. The chemistry between vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs remains a considerable strength, and producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, M83, Foster The People) gives everything a nice sheen. Album highlight “6AM” lies somewhere between Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It To My Heart” and a G-Funk banger. The synth bass and slow groove isn’t far from The Chronic-era Dre, but the imprint of ’80s freestyle danciness is all over it. Hip-hop beats actually make up much of the record’s backbone, from the scratchy breaks of “Keepin Our Eyes Out” to the big, modern bombast of “House On Fire.”
Besides choosing a different era for inspiration, Fitz And The Tantrums have relegated horns to the background or for texture (or sometimes not using them at all). While the group’s last record relied heavily on the brass-led funk of the ’60s, there’s not as much room for the saxophone in Reagan-era synth-pop. In fact, the horn breakdown in the middle of “The Walker” feels like the group sampling itself.
Looking at the band’s trajectory, it’s pretty clear whatever era they go to, Fitzpatrick and Scaggs can make it work. And where they’ll take the Tantrum time machine next is anyone’s guess.