Fun’s sugary-sweet sophomore release, Some Nights, lacks the indie-rock charm of their first release, Aim and Ignite. Some Nights capitalizes on the quirky, imaginative elements of Aim and Ignite, but takes them to their irritating extreme in this over-produced, highly theatrical follow-up. Lead singer, Nate Ruess, (formerly of The Format) sounds like a caricature of his old self, oozing with an enthusiasm and exuberance that contributes to the over-the-top impression Some Nights leaves.
In 2008, Ruess blogged about an attack on the music industry, accusing his former record label of forcing The Format to tweak their music in order to sell more singles. With this manifesto under his belt, he left The Format (and his label) to form Fun., a project he hoped would allow him more creativity and flexibility in his music. Rounding up the lineup are Andrew Dost (formerly of Anathallo) and Jack Antonoff (formerly of Steel Train), both indie-rock veterans. Ironically, the band signed with another major label and teamed up with producer Jeff Bhasker, who has previously worked with sellouts like Kanye West, Beyonce and Bruno Mars.
There is a lot of auto-tuning on this album, but it works for two reasons. First, anyone who has ever listened to The Format can attest to the fact that Nate Ruess has remarkable vocal talent, and doesn’t need any help reaching high notes. Second, auto-tune isn’t being used here to keep some talentless teenager’s voice on key, but rather it’s used in a way that adds more layers and texture to the music. The technique is particularly effective in “Stars,” where the digitized vocals are contrasted with a simple string section to create a dark, twisted fantastical end to the album. Indeed, Fun. managed to turn the dreaded auto-tuner into an instrument itself.
Some Nights opens with an applause and an intro fit for a Broadway musical, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Ruess’ quiet vocals and a lone piano crescendo as opera singers and choruses join in the background, climaxing with thundering tympanis and a full orchestra, and then softly fading away.
The title track is an explosive call to arms: “This is it boys, this is war / What are we waiting for?” It touches on one of the main themes of the album: finding yourself. Throughout the song, Ruess repeatedly asks: “What do I stand for?” although I’m not sure he’s found the answer yet.
While not the strongest track on the album, “We are Young” is maddeningly catchy, making it the perfect choice for the first single. (If you haven’t heard it yet, just turn on the radio.) The track has already made digital sales history as the first, and only song to date, to gain over 300,000 downloads a week for six straight weeks. As if that’s not enough, “We are Young” has also been featured on Glee and a Chevrolet commercial.
“Carry On” is a surprisingly uplifting ballad with some Celtic undertones in which Ruess urges listeners to overcome hopelessness: “If you’re lost and alone / Or you’re sinking like a stone / Carry on.” There’s also a great acoustic performance of this song online.
The second half of the album alternates between jarring and boring, and nowhere is Bhasker’s influence more apparent (and more out of place) than in “One Foot” and “All Alone,” with their quasi-hip hop beats and poppy hooks. In true hip hop fashion, these beats are simple and static, and lack Fun.’s dynamic originality.
Some Nights unsuccessfully toes the line between indie-pop and Radio Disney. Although the band is ripe with talent and creativity, the album focuses more on production and catchy hooks than on the music itself. Regardless, the band still manages to achieve what it promises: Fun.