Much like fashion, art is a cyclical phenomenon. Within a few short years we’ve had many great new bands attempting to recapture the glory days of genres and musicians from decades past. The Arcade Fire have put a new spin on the Bruce Springsteen template of heavy message-rock, Sigur Ros have elected to pursue the ethereal sounds of “Dark Side of the Moon” Pink Floyd, and now Fun. mixes modern pop and R&B sounds with distinctly Queen-like vocals and song structure. I must preface this by saying that I don’t think that the tendency to recycle what’s tried-and-true is a negative, in fact it can be a breath of fresh air compared to the “new” sound heard on your local Top 40 stations.
Fun. have been fortunate enough to get more radio play (and even a “Glee” cover) than the other bands mentioned above due to hit single “We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)” – an epic sing-along pop tune that, while infectious also holds a surprisingly dark lyrical tone. And therein lies what separates Fun. from all the bands they pay homage to – the dark, discomforting lyrics that wallow in grief, loss and controversy are accompanied by catchy, over-produced, piano-led music that serves as a pleasant reminder of 80s balladry and early 90s pop.
On the hard-hitting R&B/pop melange “One Foot” lead-singer Nate Ruess directly criticizes what he views as the blind beliefs of the overtly religious: “Happened to stumble upon a chapel last night, And I can’t help but back up when I think of what happens inside” – one of a few lines that call out the church and religion in general. But in the very next stanza, Ruess proclaims his own belief that life can in fact go on forever through art – a physical creation, not a largely metaphysical one like an omniscient God. It’s this contradictory and complex psychology that runs through most of the songs on the album and adds a surprising, though much welcome, degree of quality that is sorely missing in today’s mainstream pop.
Musically, the band also stands on shaky ground, but manages to triumph. Produced by frequent Kanye West collaborator (most recently on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Watch the Throne”) Jeff Bhasker, the album contains the usage of musical tools that most traditional pop purists will decry, like auto-tune (and even “Runaway”-style vocoder on the epic “Stars”), vocal fading, synth, and sounds that can only be produced by machines. Still, Nate actually has a great singing voice, so these inclusions are mere stylistic flourishes that the band uses to spruce up the production. The most successful instance is on the album namesake “Some Nights” when the high-pitch setting allows Nate’s voice to really take-off at the end of a solemn, but hopeful stanza about his nephew and the circumstances under which he was born, that leads into the full band singing the chorus line.
It is much less successful on album lowlight “It Gets Better” which Auto-Tunes the vocals throughout, but the song still comes off as dull. Auto-Tune sounds best when the song calls for many changes in pitch and tone (like in the aforementioned “Stars”), and it’s usage on this song is largely misjudged. Still, most of the songs on the album are largely sans-Auto-Tune, including the lost love ballad “All Alright” and album closer “Out on the Town” which may be the two most traditional songs on the album.
Overall, this album has plenty of replay and sing-along value. It’s varying tempos make it a good companion for anything from work-outs to road trips. It’s music that will have you singing along while making you think (but not too much), and is a breath of fresh air on the pop scene. A-
Best Song: Some Nights
Worst Song: It Gets Better