In 2012 fun. had massive success with their second album, Some Nights, which spawned the Grammy Award-winning number 1 single, We Are Young. Since then the band seems to have fractured somewhat with guitarist Jack Antonoff releasing an album with Bleachers last summer (if you like 80s-style indie and John Hughes films, I implore you to give it a listen). Though the band have assured fans that they are not breaking up, that this is a merely a hiatus, devoted fans are bound to squirm in response to announcements like this. Luckily, Nate Ruess’ debut solo album is a pretty good stand-in for a fun. album, offering the theatrical vocals, soaring melodies, layered pop production, and general melodrama enjoyed on previous works.
The album opens with a forty-three second track of boys choir singing the title track’s refrain “Step right up it’s the grand romantic”. Although I can’t help feeling that Ruess has stolen the gimmick from The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, it is a pleasant introduction, which melds into AhHa, the first song released off the album. Here Ruess has replaced his oft-used “nanana’s” with “Ahhahaha’s”. The effect is slightly obnoxious but the song itself is extremely catchy, with hooks galore: the verse is aggressively rhythmic in the vein of Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust while the chorus is pure buoyant pop à la fun. This track is followed by the album’s lead single, Nothing Without Love. Leaving aside the extreme corniness and questionable principle of the lyric “I am nothing without love”, this is beautifully melodic song delivered with Ruess’ signature emotive zeal (plus the song reinstates the “nanana’s” to their rightful place).
Take It Back feels like the romantic culminating slow dance of a rom-com (in a good way). It slows the pace and is slightly more understated, with the result that it feels more sincere than some of the other more dramatic tracks. Also, as a result of the more understated approach, the moment when Nate finally mounts an octave in the final verse is especially powerful. Light My Fire is a delightfully sugary pop ballad while Great Big Storm is, sonically, exactly that with Ruess crowing above booming drums and layered strings. Ruess gets the chance to work with Beck on What The World Is Coming To, which I’d describe as glam Americana, with its two-part harmony and steely acoustic guitar. Yet, Moment and It Only Gets Much Worse feel slightly over-emotional and bland.
The album’s title track is the record’s gem. It starts softly with floating strings, dreamy piano, and airy harp scales to accompany Ruess as he croons “And I, I just wanted you so bad”. The song grows as drums come in and Ruess’ voice gains force. At the song’s climax, the boys’ choir returns with the album’s opening refrain along with triumphant brass, pealing bells, and mounting strings. It is an unapologetically grandiloquent moment that feels the pinnacle of the record.
Altogether this is a successful debut for Ruess as a solo act. It is a collection of very catchy songs that retain the pop drama and musical bombast that fun. fans love. However, there are quite a few moments of cheesiness on the album (see “I just need a moment to cry” on Moment or the aforementioned Nothing Without Love). These moments tend not to be as prevalent on fun. albums (aside from the cheese-ridden lyric “Tonight we are young”). As a result, the album does not feel quite so weighty. This is not quite a fun. album but it’s a pretty near shot that fans will certainly enjoy during the band’s hiatus.