In eager anticipation to hear the full album by young indie pop band Fun., comprised of Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff, I sat down, turned off all surrounding distracters, pressed play and listened. I listened again and again, allowing my ears and my emotions to soak up the cacophony of noises. What I found was a theatrical and often orchestral album that led me through a dramatic journey filled with sonic highs and lows that were mirrored perfectly with the numerous lyrical themes throughout the album, which also reach peaks and pitfalls and carry with them the emotional resonances of rising and falling over and over again. Each song seems to create its own path up and down a mountain, climbing, slipping, falling, skidding and rising once more. But when I take a step back and look at the collection as one entity, I see myself sitting in a lush, velvet, cushioned chair in an antique theatre adorned with classic fixtures shining down on a band writing a story about love, loss, victory, defeat, self-pity, self-discovery and self-question. It’s a musical, and we’re all invited to sing along, to join the march, to step under the bright lights and discover ourselves.
Fun. started after the demise of lead singer Ruess’s popular band The Format, so the bar was set high for them. Furthermore, by naming themselves Fun., they formed an aura of celebratory demeanor that would expectedly be delivered in their music. They have certainly been making a name for themselves in the American indie pop world, having shared the stage with groups like Jack’s Mannequin, Paramore, and Janelle Monae and earning comparisons to bigger bands like Panic! at the Disco. They’ve been featured on Glee, on the Slammy’s and on Nylon Magazine’s online site. And now, with the release of their new album, Some Nights, on February 21 of 2012, I can only imagine that Fun. will be taking one more step toward the spotlight.
As this album circulates and reaches the ears and eyes of critics and fans alike, I imagine many will draw the comparison that I have, in that the album is orchestral, cinematic, harmonic, and grandiose. It will receive the applauses that you can hear throughout the album as they take us on a musical journey similar to what you might hear in a Rent or a Mamma Mia. The theatrical and dramatic patterns of ups and downs, acapellas and harmonizations are too obvious to ignore, and so we will not. The varied influences — tribal beats, youthful sing-alongs, production-laden vocals — carry us through the album, discovering one another as unexpectedly as we do, and that’s not a small accomplishment.
…the album is orchestral, cinematic, harmonic, and grandiose
Songs like “Some Nights Intro” guide us into the halls of mystery (perhaps an alias for the collective Fun.’s mind) that lead us through the entire collection of songs, bringing surprises oftentimes as abruptly as somebody jumping out around a corner with a scream. Other times, it’s a friendly morphing and gentle transition into the next wave of noises. On this opening track, we’re lead slowly into a tunnel of sounds that builds as we go deeper, becoming a symphonic creation that we may not quite understand, but we feel. It’s dramatic. It’s alluring. It’s a messy painting, but it creates a clear picture of losing one’s mind slowly in the night. “Lately I’ve been fucking crazy.” Yeah, and we’re just getting started.
We transition smoothly into songs like “Some Nights” and “We Are Young,” which both carry bursts of majestic sonic qualities without veering into the bombastic. Instead we’re left with gems that are big, deep, exotic and percussive. Electric guitars, hollow and tubular percussion, angst-filled vocal patterns, victorious piano chord progressions, varying speeds accompany us on a path back and forth between self-doubt and self-assurance. “Some Nights” depicts a blurry mind unsure of oneself: ‘But I still wake up/ I still see your ghost/ Lord I’m still not sure what I stand for/ What do I stand for?/ What do I stand for? Most nights, I don’t know.’ “We Are Young,” though, is a journey; it’s a parading stampede with our noses in the air, at once pretentiously and humbly marching toward our not-so-distant futures while maintaining the lightness of our youth. ‘Tonight/ We are young/ So I set the world on fire/ We can burn brighter/ Than the sun.’ I march right alongside these triumphant vocals, finding myself stopping dead in my tracks and collapsing at the last line that escapes into near-acapella and brings the tone to something far less than victorious, perhaps even gut-wrenching.
…bursts of majestic sonic qualities without veering into the bombastic. Instead we’re left with gems that are big, deep, exotic and percussive
With “Carry On,” we are given a story with a moral of perseverance: ‘May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground/ Carry on.’ We have climbed a steady hill and again reach triumph, being reminded to carry on. We march on. Fun. is leading the pack. Our pace builds, we start clapping, tapping our feet, bobbing our heads, and singing along. We cut left, we slide right, we ascend and we descend, and we do not look back. Until, anyway, we hit the fifth track, “It Gets Better.”
And then, out of nowhere, we hit an intermission. This is where the album splits and crashes into the dullest tracks. The sound that was coming so easily and smoothly suddenly becomes forced, harsh. It’s still an interesting story, but the group ventures too far into the pop realm, finding themselves unable to continue treading water in the deep end. It’s as though they’re trying to pull from left field on this track with a different and more electronic sound, but instead it veers too far toward mainstream –far more than anything else on their album — which on one hand accentuates the incredible parts of the other songs, but simultaneously brings this one down.
As we get to “Why Am I The One,” I find myself dragging my legs on the journey – the building and falling pattern is becoming a bit repetitive; it’s losing its charm. Luckily, Fun. picks up where they left off a few songs back at “All Alone.” This song starts with an open mind – it crosses genres, sounding similar to a hip-hop instrumental and delivering a new sonic quality. Again, though, we’re left wondering just how much “fun” Fun. is having. ‘I feel so all alone/ I feel so all alone.’
One step beyond “All Alone,” though, is “All Alright.” ‘I got nothing left/ inside of my chest/ but it’s all alright/ ya, it’s all alright/ I guess it’s all alright.’ It’s a bit slower than its predecessor, but we’ve returned to the theme of perseverance. We’re still on that journey of doubt and ambiguity, but each corner turned brings a new perspective. Particularly when we reach the ninth track, “One Foot,” a previously released single that is an enormous performance. Heavy, powerful, authoritative. One of the most impressive tracks on the album. Perhaps Fun’s message is blatantly clear: on any given night, you never know what you’re going to get.
As we near the end of the marathon, we find onlookers cheering us on in “Stars.” Though it may feel nice at first, this song is again a low point in the album. The vocal line sounds a bit too forced and a little off-putting. The lyrics still resonate, perhaps clarifying the most consistent strength throughout the album. This song just takes one too many odd turns — it carries us from a pop song to a marching-band soundtrack to a waltz to an African-soaked song to a neo-hip-hop radio hit, to a teeny-bop sing-along, to a Bon Iver mimicry and ending in a Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy impersonation. And though “Out on the Town” takes a turn toward the better with its exultant drums and intriguing storyline, it doesn’t compare to some of the other tracks on the album.
…they convey the message that every day is a new day; some days you’ll win, other days, you’ll lose
The theme of the album, sonically, seems to be the build and the collapse. Concurrently, the lyrics and juxtaposition of songs pose feelings of survival and defeat in the face of challenges. Collectively, Fun. has put together an album that reflects on everyday emotions that we can all relate to. They convey the message that every day is a new day; some days you’ll win, other days, you’ll lose. At times, they nail it and build an original, gratifying and motivating collection of sounds and lyrics that get us through these times. Other times, though–and I’ll mention that these are infrequent–in an effort to create an avant-garde anthology, they took the Kanye West vision one step too far and end up with something that misses the mark; something we cannot relate to, or perhaps do not choose to. If we look beyond the minor missteps, though, which I believe I can do, we’re introduced to a new way of creating art, of building and deconstructing layers of noise, of story, of perspective and of feelings that may lead us further along on our journey, one that goes past this impressive eleven-track collection and carries on into our own everyday lives.
Album Rating: 8.2/10