I first heard fun. a few years ago when a friend of mine put “The Gambler” from their debut album Aim and Ignite on a mix that he played as we drove back to school after a break. At the time I remember liking the song, but not pursuing the band’s work any further, which, in retrospect, was a mistake. A few weeks ago, I was alerted via tweet that fun. had made Aim and Ignite available for free in promotion of their soon-to-be-released album Some Nights. The marketing strategy worked, as I downloaded Aim and Ignite, was promptly blown away and bought Some Nights without a second thought. Since then I’ve been listening to both albums constantly, their upbeat melodies and anthemic choruses the perfect soundtrack to the burgeoning Spring. Some Nights is a darker affair than Aim and Ignite, touching on issues of loneliness, depression and death, and frontman Nate Ruess’ lyrics provide an honest, often confrontational look at the realities of growing up in this day and age.
After a short intro, the album begins with the title track, an effervescent attack of harmonized vocals and militant, almost Afrobeat drums. The band’s music is often compared to Queen, and this track is one of the better examples on Some Nights, transitioning between soft and loud moments seamlessly without losing the power of its arena rock aspirations. Amid the constantly shifting musical backdrop, a few lines reveal the sense of insecurity that pervades the album: “Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for/ What do I stand for? Most nights I don’t know anymore.” The album’s smash hit lead single, “We Are Young,” comes next, and finds Ruess trying to win back an old lover in a bar. While the soaring chorus suggests confidence and youth, the verses subvert that tone, implying a perspective on life isn’t sustainable: “My friends are in the bathroom, getting higher than the Empire State…I just thought that we could find new ways to fall apart.” If the record has an overarching theme, it involves holding on to youth, and the regrets that can come from refusing to grow up.
The upbeat and absurdly catchy melodies throughout mask the deeper questions and musings of Ruess, and the album speeds by at a frantic pace. Even the slower songs like “We Are Young”, “Carry On” and “Why Am I the One” (which DZ put on this month’s playlist) seem relentless, their musical background constantly fluctuating, taking the edge off some of the darker lyrics: “So I met up with some friends at the edge of the night…and we talked and talked about how our parents will die.” Those lines, from “Carry On”, might sound overwrought in print, but they come off as devastatingly personal on record, much like “Why Am I the One”’s self-pitying exploration of the uncertain ground of a relationship. The authenticity prevents the lyrics from clichéd emo territory, grounding it in reality. The playfulness of the music doesn’t hurt either. As the album nears its end, Ruess’ musings on death and life take on a spiritual bent, and he begins to talk frankly to God.
“One Foot”, despite its carnivalesque tone, finds Ruess raging at God in a particularly scathing, pitchshifted verse: “After all, I thought we were all your children/ But I will die for my own sins, thanks a lot/ We’ll rise up ourselves, thanks for nothing at all.” This confident attack on God, however, is shortly followed by a moment of introspection in the bridge that seems to undermine the previous lines: “I am over 25, and I can’t make a name for myself/ Some nights I break down and cry.” Continuing the confession, the album’s official closing track, “Stars”, is optimistic, yet tempered with the inevitable losses that growing up brings. Ruess appears to be having a conversation with a friend who believes in some sort of salvation, to which he replies, “You are always holding on to stars/ I think they’re better from afar/ Cause no one here is going to save us.” It’s a depressing but fitting conclusion to an album concerned with living life in a time where meaning and purpose is difficult to find.
Lyrically, Some Nights is reminiscent of The National’s recent records; it bravely dissects the problems and tendencies that plague my generation, without offering much in the way solution or hope. Which is fine, as that’s not exactly what we look to pop music for anyway. On top of that, Some Nights boasts some truly impressive tunes, full of life and variety, making it one of my favorite albums thus far this year. In fact, with the possible exception of “It Gets Better”, there’s not a bad track on it, and Ruess’ vocals–indeed, his voice in general–are worth the price of admission alone. After a fantastic debut album, fun. doesn’t lose any steam with Some Nights and I hope they continue making music this interesting for a long time.