A stumble in the right direction
It’s a storied tradition in pop music for musicians heavily associated with a band to split off (temporarily or otherwise) and make some music as a solo artist. Sting, Stevie Nicks and Michael Jackson all started in groups and went solo at some point or another—and now Fitz, of Fitz and the Tantrums, is adding his name to that list. Michael Fitzpatrick, or Fitz, has been in the indie-pop scene for going on a decade and a half now, but has never split from the Tantrums until now with Head Up High. The real thing to watch here is how far Fitz strays from his musical style with his band in the past.
The first song, which the album is named after, is, to put it simply, plain. Not to say that it’s not good, but it’s fair to assume that your titular single should be something the album is themed around, and one of the strong points, and that doesn’t really feel like the case here. There are much, much more well-executed songs on Head Up High than this. That being said, “Head Up High” does match the rest of the tracks in terms of corniness. The lyrics on this album are really something else. This linguistic cheese comes to a head on the track “Piñata,” in which the hook goes “My heart is bangin’ and bangin’, I’m saying yah, yah/ But you keep leavin’ me hangin’ like a piñata.” That is stunningly corny and not what one might expect from Fitz. The song itself is decently fun and bright, it’s not a bad listen, but it’s hard to move past lyrics like that.
Fitz is a talented musician, though, and one of the strange things about Head Up High is the juxtaposition of strange choices with genuinely good moments. “I Need a Dancefloor” is a song about taking a load off and going out to dance, which has a genuinely good chorus… if you can get past the first line. Fitz rhymes ‘dancefloor’ with ‘bad boy’ which could work if the singer had a non-rhotic accent, one where Rs aren’t pronounced, but Fitz is an American from Los Angeles. The rest of that chorus is really strong, and with the verses being well done as well, “I Need a Dancefloor” is genuinely probably the best track on the album.
In regards to the flow from song to song, Head Up High has next to none. While a listening order isn’t everything, it’s still nice to be able to tell that an artist has put some thought into the sequence of the songs they’re presenting to people. Initially, it seemed like the album’s ninth and tenth tracks were going to share some commonality or throughline due to their names (“Slowdown” and “Speed,” respectively), but “Slowdown” is about dealing with the gradual numbing of the emotions due to the pace at which the one life humans have to live goes, and “Speed” is about hitting the gas in a Maserati, and not much else.
Head Up High is a decent album with some shaky moments it has trouble recovering from, and maybe it’s because Fitz has never really done solo work before. This is a strange space to be in if you’ve always had a band. Hopefully he can stabilize his output and find his footing, because there is a lot of potential here for success. Take your own advice, Fitz—keep your head up high.