There's a fine line between evolution and de-evolution, and which process Fitz and the Tantrums is experiencing on its sophomore effort, "More Than Just a Dream," depends on what you liked about the L.A. band's breakout debut. That record, the retro-soul-fueled "Pickin' Up the Pieces," delivered a few memorable hits, "Breakin' the Chains of Love" and "MoneyGrabber," and propelled the band to modest success while inviting comparisons to the more assured and charismatic Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.
But Fitz has changed, the proof being the first few moments of "Dream," the band's initial release under a new deal with Elektra Records. Much of the 1960s Atlantic and Stax soul that inspired "Pieces" has vanished; in its place, the band has drawn cues from the 1980s pop-soul of Hall & Oates, the Eurythmics and George Michael, replacing brass with synths, the snap of clear analog snare drum with more processed ones.
As on its predecessor, band founder and singer Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick understands what makes a good song, as evidenced by "Get Away" and "The End," two gems that suggest evolution. And co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs' charisma overflows. But the about-face often feels like a money grab, less an aesthetic decision than a chase for the charts, as though when the band exited the stage in 2012, it dropped the suits and horns off at Goodwill and headed to Guitar Center to gear up anew. Will it work? It just might.
"More Than Just a Dream"
Two and a half stars (out of four)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun