Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fitz and the Tantrums: Aisles of Mystery!

It was probably quite clear that I was out of my element.  In the aisle to the left I overheard a woman saying to her friend “….well, here’s how it is: Huggies are better for boys, and Pampers are better for girls.”  As they were playfully crossing things off of their list, I was having a low-level anxiety attack over a choice that should be easy: what bottle system am I going to adopt for the Little One?  If the various packages were to be believed, this choice would have a direct impact on my baby’s growth and my personal sleep potential.  Plus, once you have committed to one brand, you commit to their entire system of valves, bags, sterilizers, warmers, and various other accoutrements, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. 

How had I gotten so far from the comfortable zones in Target, like the electronics aisles or my usual adolescent sneak peek at this season’s action figures?  Well, rumor has it that they know what causes babies now, so the question is somewhat rhetorical.  In gaining the label “Dad,” however, I found that my shopping lists have begun to explode with things found in aisles previously shrouded in blissful secrecy.      

Pickin' Up The Pieces
Fatherhood doesn’t change who I am, though.  Rather, it expands my horizons.  So, although I did have to fumble through a request for maternity pads with an employee whose English was as good as my Spanish, you can bet I took a couple of minutes to stroll though the media isles.  In this particular trip, it was a new release called Pickin' up the Pieces by Fitz and the Tantrums caught my eye. 

Picking up the Pieces was dancing on the edge of my awareness for awhile.  I saw the video for its lead single Moneygrabber about a month ago and it stuck, both visually and musically.

Fitz and the Tantrums have invested quite a bit of cultural capital into Moneygrabber by tying it in to the visual style of the album art.  I liked what they were going for, but with so much riding on that particular single, it seemed unlikely that its reconditioned Motown and Stax schtick could translate into a quality full-length album.  In the late 90s, bands like Fastball and Smashmouth had outstanding singles on mediocre albums, and I’m still not over it.

But, at this particularly weird trip to Target, Picking up the Pieces was what jumped off the rack at me.  As I continued to drive about McAllen on that early Sunday morning checking bizarre things off of my shopping list, I was pleased to find out that Moneygrabber was probably my least favorite track on the album.  Picking up the Pieces is infused with a positive feel-good groove that offsets its rather vapid lyrics.  Player for player, the Tantrums, as a guitarless band, are particularly adept in this distinctive funk style. The keyboardist, however, might just be the band's secret weapon, especially if he is responsible for the smile-inducing bursts of melodicism that hold many of the songs together.

As I became more familiar with the album I began to think that my affinity for Fitz and the Tantrums was grounded in the first record I owned: H2O by Hall and Oates.  Hall and Oates was my first favorite band, and they probably deserve their own post someday, but for now I can say that I heard a correlation between the way that they and Fitz and the Tantrums reinterpret the soul music of yesteryear.  Imagine my amazement (and self-satisfaction) when I found this live clip of Daryl Hall himself sitting in on a performance of Breakin' the Chains of Love

I actually listened to Picking up the Pieces about five times in a row during that weekend stay in McAllen.  It’s pure head-bobbing entertainment with some depth in the performance department.  I suspect that Fitz and the Tantrums are a killer live act, but their album, for all its strengths, may not stick to my ribs in the long term.  For now, though, it did serve to bring a welcome grin to my face as I awkwardly stumbled through the aisles at Babies R Us pondering the possibilities of sleep sacks and ladybug night lights.

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