Fitz & The Tantrums
Songs For a Break Up Vol. 1
By Jose Fritz
I’ve been playing air piano on the desk for twenty minutes now. The right speaker cuts out when I hit those imaginary “A” chords too hard because the headphone jack is knackered. A fortissimo rhythm line with my left hand shakes the desktop again wiggling an invisible wire and stereo sound returns to my small world of late night writing. Fitz and the Tantrums has all the catchiness of Ben Folds without the cheesy pop guilt.
The EP Songs for a Break Up Vol.1 was delivered to me with the story that it was recorded entirely in Fitz’s own living room using one microphone. The mix is too clean, the individual instruments too distinct and textured for it to be a room mic so that means that Fitz laid down every instrument individually as an overdub. That is actually pretty impressive.
As a bandleader (of a band of overdubbed instruments) Fitz weirdly reminds me of Sergio Mendes. Without ever crossing the line into jazz, Break Up delicately mixes subtle Harry Nilsson-like keyboard nuances with a little Henry Mancini, a touch of Burt Bacharach, and cool minor chords. It’s a pure California pop hybrid. Only on the left coast could a songwriter successfully combine the lyrics of bitter break up songs with
The chorus of “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” is pure Eels. But elsewhere his influences are less obvious. The genealogy of orchestral of pop always brings us back to Lennon and McCartney, to the Beach Boys and often something French and prissy. Somehow his inner Francophile never comes out. The orchestral flair never breaks out of a kitschy 1970s fetish, and break up songs are not prissy, not even when he quotes Elton John.
When Fitz sings “I’ve been trying to get you to see things all my way / Four days now since you left me and I know that you’ll probably keep away,” it reads wrong. It reads like a YouTube video of a teenager on his bed with an acoustic guitar missing strings. But it’s not when it’s laid down thick over a funky backline riding the Amen break.
When he sings “You don’t know what you had you’re gonna find I ain’t so bad when I’m gone and you’re alone,” it reads like a jilted and angry Aretha demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A lot of the record comes off like that. Fitz somehow channels the angry black girlfriend that’s going to yell at you on the porch, in front of the neighborhood. That’s a rare accomplishment for anyone; man woman or child, let alone a totally unknown white boy from France.
Editor General Dany Sloan informed me that he was shamelessly inviting the band to perform at his wedding. Let me repeat that, he has planned to host a live set of all break up songs at his own wedding. Does the future Mrs. Sloan know about his nefarious plans? One can only hope the carnage doesn’t reach the local papers arrest column.