PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Fitz & the Tantrums: More Than Just a Dream

The Motown revivalists find themselves up contending with a standard sophomore struggle: a bigger recording budget.

Fitz & the Tantrums

More Than Just a Dream

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-05-07

It’s perhaps expected that Fitz & the Tantrums would layer on the gloss for their second full-length. There’s certainly precedent in all the other times similarly hard-working up-and-comers have found themselves garnering attention and able to spend decent money on recording for once. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with a bit (or in the case of someone like Queen or Depeche Mode, a lot) of studio trickery, unless one holds to the absolutist purist notion that the only honest records are those slathered in bedroom-borne, done-in-one cassette tape-hiss.

But for some bands, a bigger budget is more a hindrance than a benefit. Fitz & the Tantrums’ throwback soul stylings (honed by endless touring) scream for a less-is-more touch when it comes to the control board. Their 2010 debut Pickin’ Up the Pieces built up a fanbase with such an approach, but those enamored by its lively '60s Motown facsimiles are liable to find the follow-up, More Than Just a Dream, a bit too 21st century for their tastes.

Compelled by a desire to spread their creative wings, Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick and his gang incorporate instruments they purposefully avoided when making Pickin’ Up the Pieces (namely guitar) and undertake a decidedly modern rock bent on More Than Just a Dream. If you are a fan of Imagine Dragons or M83, the treadmill grooves, '80s synths, and inexhaustible supply of “oh-ohhs” are pitched right at you (unsurprisingly, the album was produced by Tony Hoffer, who has worked with M83 Phoenix, and Beck). When before Fitzpatrick and co-lead vocalist Noelle Scaggs could compel audiences to sing along based on the gusto of their performances, now the cues for crowd participation are signposted by the excessively overdubbed choruses, as is the custom these days.

The secret to any good R&B act (and really, any band) is that one needs to know how to use space. That is, know when to play and when not to play. Yet today’s pop production has little use for such subtlety -- it’s generally cranked to full blast, slamming listeners with an impenetrable wall of beats and hooks aside from the occasional shameless beat drop. Suffice to say, that approach and Fitz and the Tantrums is a less-than-ideal marriage. This is a band beholden to an era where the musicians thrived off feeding off one another, where doggedly sticking to the gameplan was less important than getting people moving and hitting upon the right feel. The Tantrums have no problem composing hooks -- in fact, every song has at least one impressively catchy melody, be it those more traditionalist hip-shakin’ “Oh oh oh oh oh ohs” in “Spark” or the lock-step handclaps and harmonies of “Out of My League” -- but in many instances, the fancy window dressing doesn’t afford the musicians much wiggle room, nor allow the arrangements room to breathe. It’s a welcome relief on the ears when a retro horn interlude arrives to break up the straightforward momentum of “The Walker”.

Dissected on the basic level of melody and harmony, More Than Just a Dream is a killer of an album. All these songs are good, make no mistake -- many an artist would wish they had such a caliber of tunes handy when it came to their sophomore struggles. It is in regards to the presentation where the Tantrums fumble. The playtime in the studio results in songs that are overly fussy, monolithically mixed and seemingly aimed at a completely different audience than the sort previously drawn to the band. With every listen I am enticed by the judicious melodies, clever little turns, and mastery of the middle-eight section -- but that sensation I get whenever I see a television ad about some shiny new gadget desperate to grab my attention always returns in tandem. As the album progresses, the soul leanings reassert themselves, yet the interband chemistry remains a secondary concern to all the neat layering tricks that they are able to do now with a bigger bankroll.

Nevertheless, More Than Just a Dream is worth a spin for anyone with a weakness for neo-soul flourishes and hooks pitched above the ringtone fodder level, even if the old-school musicality and the modern rock-flavored production never make comfortable bedfellows. It’s an album that’s hard to love, yet easy to like.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.