The boys of fun.–lead singer/songwriter Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost–are back with their second studio album, Some Nights, which drops today. As a long time Nate Ruess fan, from his Format days, I feel qualified and obligated to review this record. People who are just beginning to listen to fun. might be put off by this album–it’s, in a word, weird. Besides the insanely catchy single “We Are Young,” songs flow in and out from polka-like operatics (nothing new for fun.) to…pop/R&B influenced autotuning? The album can’t make up its mind between being a quirky, pop, Queen-inspired complement to 2008′s Aim and Ignite or some avant-garde-yet-somehow-still-radio-friendly angsty-youth soundtrack.
As for those who have been following Ruess’ career as a musician and songwriter, this is an interesting next step for him. While I don’t think I’ll have this album on repeat, it’s exciting to realize that fun. is really gaining credibility as an artist, and this album certainly confirms Ruess’ honest and biting (albeit at times repetitive and whiny) songwriting style and skills. With producer Jeff Bhasker, Ruess seems to embrace hyperproduction (i.e. what I reconcile as deliberate and ironic use of autotune) in order to fly in the face of, perhaps, past struggles with making very involved music. He has worked hard to have such technologies and tools at his disposal, and now he’s going to use them, damnit. This is his Kanye moment, and Some Nights is his My Beatiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The comparisons between the two are endless.
At the end of all this, however, the album emerges as, well, weird. It opens with a full dose of pop, bordering on hip-hop influences, with “All Alone” It has a shining run of undeniable catchiness and raw songsmanship with the next three tracks, “All Alright,” “Carry On,” and “It Gets Better.” By the time we reach “One Foot,” something has changed: here we have an angsty, thumping song which boldly condemns God and religion with lines such as “I will die for my own sins/Thanks a lot/We’ll rise up ourselves/Thanks for nothing at all.” Whoa. That said, Ruess has always been sad/angsty/vengeful/self-critical with his lyrics, but this time the presentation is different; it’s from a place of establishment and power and divinity and confidence. It’s not cocky, but it almost feels like it (perhaps only undermined by the self-critical nature). The rest of the album either contemplates or mocks the underpinnings of music industry life styles, of Ruess’ new found fame, of the concepts of family and self and love (fun fact: there’s a throwback to Aim and Ignite in the album’s perhaps most revealing track, “Stars”: “Some nights I rule the world/With bar lights and pretty girls”).
Overall, this album leaves you with a lot to analyze and digest, which, in my opinion, is a definite plus and something I’ve always enjoyed about Ruess. Sonically, you can expect fun.’s creative use of vocals (both Ruess’ and background/choral elements) and their characteristic myriad of instruments. Now, however, mix in electronics, heavy beats, and a lot of pop/hip-hop elements. This certainly creates a new feel which is pretty cool given the trend these days towards old-style music revivals (nothing wrong with that, just that no one is really pioneering anything new). Looking back on the album and after writing this review, I am confident that this album is a good-weird, not a bad-weird. It’s nice to see musicians such as fun. making statements through music, not through fashion or tweets or publicity stunts. Ruess has earned his priviledge to break boundaries and rules and make a damn statement, and with Some Nights he’s taken full advantage of that.
Review in a sentence: This album is weird but good, and you should buy it if you’re looking for a statement to define the 2010s, not redefine the ’50s-’70s.
(Sidenote: My prediction? The third or fourth fun. album will be a super-stripped down, acoustic album. Ruess is far too self-critical to not entirely oppose this album at some point.)
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