“Instead of trying to capture our live show on CD we chose to invite fans into our world — a night out with Fritz Helder and the Phantoms,” says Fritz Helder, describing his group’s cheekily titled debut album Greatest Hits. The CD has been a year in the making, funded by hard work and those notorious Gay Bash parties held this summer at Helder headquarters.
Fritz Helder and the Phantoms includes dancers and vocalists Diego and Pastel, bass-player Fierce and guitarist Silk. Since 2004 the group has made an indelible mark on Toronto’s ever-evolving queer landscape, breezing around all corners of Toronto, from their home base in the West End to Vazaleen at Lee’s Palace, from Grapefruit at Fly to afterparties at Ultra and beyond. They may be a product of West Queen West but they also make sense outside of that specific context. Some bands can never truly transcend the scenes which spawn them (Fischerspooner is the best example). Fritz Helder and the Phantoms is much more akin to groups like Scissor Sisters in terms of crossover potential.
The album’s defining success is not the studio versions of past live favourites, it’s the way it showcases the group’s unanticipated diverse sound. Surprisingly, longtime Fritz Helder and the Phantoms club favourites like “Red Coat” and “Making a Scene” don’t make the strongest impact on the disc. The slow-grooving, atmospheric “Lagerfeld Lady” and the delightfully folky album closer “Like a Lady” (featuring vocals by Silk) are more compelling than the familiar party tracks. Fritz and co have navigated around the pitfalls common to many acts who utilize synthesizers. Combining synths and retaining a believable human element is not an easy task. But the Phantoms pull it off with aplomb, no doubt thanks to guiding hand of main producer Gavin Bradley, whose solo recordings lean toward the soul side of things.
Known for their playful live act, unique look and glam rock-and-roll posturing, Fritz Helder and the Phantoms has a well-deserved reputation for being worth the streetcar ride to wherever they pop up next. But when a band is so entrenched in people’s minds as a live act is there extra pressure about committing your sound to a disc, forever embedded in binary code on a piece of plastic? “We approached making the album with the same attitude and energy that we have when putting our live shows together,” says Fritz. “Our fans have come to expect the unexpected from us. Our live show is never the same twice and there are no rules so we were free to go anywhere and everywhere with the album.”
True to his words, the album meanders through various styles, all stitched together by answering machine antics. Gimmicky? Yes, maybe. But worth repeated listens? Definitely.