My friends Tyler and Tim introduced me to fun. on an epic late night drive. I don’t remember who suggested it, but while we were swapping music suggestions, they both assured me that the band “fun.” was tailor-made for my enjoyment. They were right — the pop-rock three-piece out of New York pushes all my buttons. You’ve got your sweeping sound with just enough Broadway peeking out in the edges to not be entirely showtune-esque; your highly literary and personal lyrics; your sheer, unrestrained joie de vie. Their first album, “Aim and Ignite,” was great, and I’m not going to be “that guy” and say it was fun, but I’ll just leave that comment there so you can make your own inferences. Songs like “All the Pretty Girls” and “Light a Roman Candle” became staples on my jogging playlists and/or helped plunge me into hopeless romantic reveries. I was perfectly content to say that fun. was one of my favorite bands.
And then they released “Some Nights,” and just like that, fun. went through an impressive musical puberty.
I don’t want to pull out ALL of the music review cliches, but the amount of musical growth and lyrical maturation that has occurred between “Aim and Ignite” and “Some Nights” has produced my absolute, unequivocal favorite album of the young year and one that I already am content to call one of my favorite albums ever. There are some collections of songs that stir in you memories of the first great albums you listened to, when you first started liking songs that weren’t the oldies your parents let you listen to on the radio or the theme song to the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon. Then, you heard people singing about things that you could relate to, and when you’re young, you are just so sure that the band knows exactly what is going on in that stupid little hair-gelled 10th-grade head of yours. This is that album for the early twentysomething.
Fun. breaks out of any musical box you might have put them in on their first release. Every song has varied terrain, with sharp stylistic shifts in the outstanding, unforgettable title track and the explosive crescendos in the lead single “We Are Young.” The band is not afraid to wear its Queen influences on its sleeve, and there’s flavors of Elton John, Vampire Weekend and some hip-hop wafting in and out. In a quirky choice, fun. experiments with Auto Tune on singer Nate Ruess’ vocals on many tracks — WAIT LET ME FINISH — to pretty unique effect. The key here is that he is actually a powerful, gusto-filled vocalist, so the electronic effects are purely for texture’s sake. You like Kanye’s “808s and Heartbreaks,” right? Here is the indie pop version of that. Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost went to town.
The Yeezy comparison does not end there. Like the aforementioned “Heartbreaks” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” and heck, every Bon Iver song ever, there are some immensely relatable themes here. Existential angst, feeling lonely and alienated from friends, losing love, missing your parents, not knowing what you’re doing with your life — these are the threads holding “Some Nights” together, painted by yours truly in as broad of strokes as possible. These descriptions do a disservice to the eloquence that Ruess builds into his lyrics. Yes, this is the rare album where one can listen from start to finish without a single skip.
“Some Nights Intro,” with a subdued cabaret prelude, broadcasts fun.’s ambitions up-front. This song has an opera singer in it, Nicki Minaj-level snarls, a harmony-belting choir, strings coming out of its ears, and a “Moulin Rouge” finish. Yes, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s a perfectly brief opening salvo for a theatrical album. And it is the perfect lead-in for title track.
I defy you to listen to the song “Some Nights” one time and not come back to it immediately. This track will give you Stockholm Syndrome. If “Some Nights” the album is my favorite of the year, then “Some Nights” the song is my favorite song, far and away. From the a capella opener to the surging “Lion King” drums, not a single inadequate word I could string together would convey the cinematic quality of “Some Nights.” When Ruess growls, “This is it, boys/This is war,” he is warning you that fun. is about to annex your brain. It’s a confessional about dreams, regrets, hopes, bad decisions, perseverance, identity and everything in between. “Some Nights” is a song about being a person. Deal with it, because you’ll be cueing it up on Spotify for quite awhile.
You’ve heard “We Are Young” on Glee, which is regrettable. In the wrong hands — read: Lea Michele’s — the line “My friends are getting higher than the Empire State” could be a flop, but it’s arresting on this track. This is the thinking man’s bar song. The worst thing I can say about is that is underutilizes the thrilling Janelle Monae, who has an all-too-brief and restrained refrain. It’s almost as if the band used up all the electricity in the room and Monae felt she had to (beautifully) rein it in.
“Carry On” evokes Billy Joel in only the good ways, and with an electrifying guitar solo in the middle, leaves cheese in the dust and goes straight for drunken karaoke staple status: “If you’re lost and alone/or you’re sinking like a stone, carry on/May your past be the sound/of your feet upon the ground, carry on.” The conviction is contagious.
A synthesized, computerized danceable treat, “It Gets Better” is charged with liberating optimism and lyrical quirk: “It’s hard to lay a golden egg/with everyone around.” Think the intro to Commuter’s “Young Hearts” mixed with the Chariots of Fire soundtrack by Vangelis mixed with Depeche Mode’s “Can’t Get Enough” mixed with a cask of sugar-free Red Bull and floppy disks.
“Why Am I the One” seems like an obvious sequel to “Aim and Ignite’s” “I Wanna Be the One.” Then in the bridge and the chorus, Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” seems to enter the picture, and the ’90s feel of this slightly resigned, forlorn track becomes apparent. Obviously high off of Sir Elton’s influence, “All Alone” gets downright monarchist, with a tinny chamber orchestra refrain and a beat straight out of a Lily Allen song.
“All Alright” is certainly one of the most affecting songs on the album, second only to the title track. “I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest/but it’s all alright” is representative of fun.’s contemplative brand of angst. If you don’t identify with self-destructive tendencies and alienation at some point, then I’d love to ask you how being a robot is working out for you. “One Foot” is “Some Nights'” requisite marching-band-inspired track, because every band has one these days. It’s not Sousa, but its repetitive big drum beats and slightly woozy horns help you imagine a man, mid-drunken bender, reviewing the state of his life. A brief mid-song confessional effectively segues back into the song’s lockstep formation.
Final track “Stars” starts out as the best song 30 Seconds to Mars never wrote, and it gets bonus points because it’s not a 30 Seconds to Mars song. But, typical to fun.’s penchant for breakneck stylistic shifts in the middle of tracks, it immediately becomes the track on “Some Nights” closest in sound to “Aim and Ignite.” And then in the third act, the Auto Tune takes up its most blatant residence. It’s schizophrenic, and it’s not the best song on the album, but by no means is it unenjoyable.
“Some Nights” is irresistible. It will not be denied. Try to be cynical — they will wait. Because in the end, fun. will be there, singing all the things you’re thinking.
(1-10) The album.