[7 November 2005]
Tim Fite’s backstory is infinitely more interesting than his music. This is unfortunate because he’s got one hell of a backstory. First I’ll touch on the fiction. It sounds as though Tim Fite was born a poor black boy in Alabama. But just like Navin Johnson in The Jerk, he’s really white, and boy is he funny looking. The press photo shows clean-shaven puffy cheeks and an Alfalfa cowlick. Pair this with a vacant expression that screams of ADHD, and you’ve got one funny looking dude. His music calls upon hip-hop influences as often as southern rock. We’ve already determined he’s not black. Guess what? He’s not southern either. He’s just a white boy from New York. At least his bio claims he lives in Brooklyn, but it also claims that he lives alone in a graveyard, so who knows.
Even more interesting is the fake story of his birth detailed in the album’s artwork. Fite was born without blood. It’s a rare condition, but it happens. Therefore a machine must pump blood into his veins and arteries. Because he relies on the machine, he’s not fearful of losing blood, as the artwork so cleverly demonstrates with the illustration of a severed finger. The album, the artwork claims, is the sound of that blood-making machine.
Now that you’ve digested those tidbits, I’ll discuss the truthful backstory. Gone Ain’t Gone includes samples that Fite discovered in the discount bin of used record stores. He limited himself to records $1 or cheaper. Why would he perform such an exercise? Probably for the same reason that he pretends he was born without blood: it creates a buzz and gets people interested. Once they’re interested, the music has to entertain, or Fite’s simply a stingy freak with a possible hallucinogenic drug habit and a bad haircut.
The music is similar to Odelay-era Beck. The samples serve to mix Fite’s good ole’ boy country voice and subject matter with hip-hop beats. Another part of his act is his voice, an affected, impassionate drawl. It works on early tracks before sounding nothing but lazy later in the album. His fake black roots are strangely accentuated on “Toasted Rye”, which opens with a sampled, uncredited speech that rails against the establishment: “We gonna walk on this racist power structure.” After it’s over, Fite sings what sounds like a Civil War/civil rights hymn over a melodic harmonica: “On a bright and sumry mornin’ / We’ll be marching side by side / Through the gates of ‘white man’s heaven’ / We’ll take the bread from his private pantry.” It’s oddly one of the strongest moments on the CD, even though Fite’s clearly white and was never a slave.
The formula works again on “No Good Here”, which uses synthesizers and sprightly rock-pop to a wonderfully catchy effect. In fact, some of the songs are simply too charming to resist, despite the personality singing them. Fite finds the most success with songs closely aligned to indie pop music. Sadly, his hip-hop influence includes the baffling practice of including short interludes and bad jokes. Of the 17 tracks, only 10 are complete songs. On one joke track, Fite discusses what he would do if he had his own cop show, including using elementary school sound effects in place of actual firing guns. It’s this unapologetic sophomoric stance that causes me to ignore whatever truth or profound sentiment is intended by singing about civil rights and class wars.
If this is turn into something more than an experiment and a gimmick, Fite needs to find a point. Is he trying to fight racism? Is he trying to invent a new art form? Should I tell him that slavery was abolished in the 1800s? Fite needs a thesis statement, which the remainder of his songs can support. Otherwise, he’s simply compiled excerpts of bad songs from bad records and fake rapped over them, and that takes no talent at all.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/fitetim-gone/