I know, I know. Calling an album “throwback” or evocative of some earlier time is a fairly trite way to compliment a record. After all, does that imply a lack of vision, something derivative you always hear as criticism of Lenny Kravitz? So it is with this trepidation that I indeed do call Pickin’ Up the Pieces by Fitz and the Tantrums a throwback, but an original one that is not an imitation of a style, but a slick soulful fusing of modern sensibility and true old school R&B flavor. Needless to say, it is a compulsively listenable piece.
As my man NQ has talked about, first tracks are so important. You don’t want to blow all the karma out in the first three minutes but a strong assured track that is the album, the very embodiment of what your next hour will be. This album opens with “Breaking the Chains of Love”, an ideal start in that vein. It’s no “Londoncalling” but with its bouncy keyboard, bass and drum intro you are pulled right in.
The keyboards, in particular the organ sounds, combined with the rest evoke a sort of Motown spiced Doors kind of look, which flows easily into a jazzy lick. Add the backup singers and the classic love song lyrics and you have something 1962 Berry Gordy might have oversaw with today’s tools.
Indeed the first half of the album is particularly strong. “Dear Mr. President” with the strong choirlike feel in the backing vocals has some gospel feel as they sing about “mama raising her family” after daddy walks out. “Moneygrabber” is a worthy radio song of course, and the title track has those sorts of soul-gospel tinges. That this vibe is contained within a decidedly rock album is interesting. I mean, it is clearly a rock album – there is no mistaking it but the influences and grooves it works in makes it a really addictive album to listen to.