Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Some Nights," fun., and a Heavy Crown to Bear

This summer, I got a new car. It seemed that the time had come: the old Scion XA was finally starting to incur monthly repair bills, and we, as a family, needed a car with a bit more room anyhow. I said my goodbyes and replaced it with a Mazda CX-5 and, with one exception, I could not be happier. It seems that they just don’t make multiple disc players for cars anymore, so, despite the Bluetooth headset capabilities of my stereo, I’ve reverted to juggling discs like I used to juggle cassettes way back in the old days. I’m that stubborn.

The stereo sounds fantastic, though, and is well-equipped to transmit the sonic capacities of current production. I really noticed this as fun.s’ 2012 release Some Nights became the regular soundtrack for the family rush-hour crosstown trek to the dojo during the summer months.

With The Format’s Interventions and Lullabies playing such a significant role last spring, I was originally planning on putting off this more recent entry in Nate Reuss’ catalog, going for a more chronological approach. Thanks to the car, though, finance was particularly tight early this summer.  Finding a copy of Some Nights that I could purchase on trade-in was much easier than other more obscure albums in his career.

These two albums ring awfully close to each other, so it is hard not to make comparisons. The distinctions between the two, however, are far more interesting. The most fundamental difference is that Interventions and Lullabies was intended to capture the liveness of a band in a rock setting. Conversely, judging by its production approach, Some Nights is intended as a studio project.  Now, I have previously pointed out what I saw as a similarity between Reuss’ voice and that of the great Freddie Mercury, and I think it is impossible to ignore this resemblance on Some Nights.  Because their work is composed with the studio in mind, fun. has the latitude to operate within a nearly orchestral scope that clearly recalls Queen. In fact, if Mercury were still alive, I don't have to work too hard to imagine Queen having a late-period 21st century comeback with a tune not unlike the album’s Lion King-esque title track.  Might need a guitar solo, though.

One thing that Some Nights certainly sets in stone for me - Reuss is easily my favorite vocalist and lyricist in recent memory. Even on some of the album’s weaker tracks (and there are some) Reuss inevitably finds space to bare his soul and take musical risks. In Some Nights, for example, uses autotuning conventions to push his voice to a nearly instrumental extreme (and in the process, taking on the role of the aforementioned guitar solo). While his experiments hardly put him in Mike Patton’s league, he is trying out some interesting things with his voice and in a high-access arena, which I appreciate. Even when he isn’t pushing his voice to the brink of noise, as the lead singer of fun. he doesn’t fail to convince.

As I have delved further into the history of these bands, I have noticed that many longtime Format fans, armed with the accusation that Reuss sold out, are overly critical of fun. I admit that my investment in Reuss as an artist is merely months long, rather than decades, so perhaps my perspective is skewed, but I don’t quite see how Some Nights betrays his principles as an artist. It is, in actuality, pretty adventurous for a contemporary pop album. If you think about it, the band’s breakout anthem We Are Young is a rather unlikely hit. The song’s shifting tempos immediately disqualify it from the dance floor, its structure is non-standard, and its double-timed choruses exclude all but the most nimble-tongued fan from singing along. Yet its message, delivery, and compositional structure is inarguably credible and perhaps even moving.

The vast majority of talented musicians bang their head against the wall and never even get close to the big time, especially these days. Every now and then, though, good things happen to the right people. Nate Reuss and the other members of fun. have created an excellent collection of contemporary pop music with Some Nights, and a few of the album’s finer moments have miraculously become part of contemporary mass culture. Again, not many can readily don the mantle of being Queen's successors.  That is a heavy crown to bear.  If anyone is poised to, however, fun. has my vote.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this post. As someone who has been following Nate Ruess's magical voice from the beginnings of The Format, this is a refreshing post to read.

    It's hard to connect with The Format fans because they want to bash fun. and it's hard to connect with fun. fans because they often lack the knowledge or interest of Nate's previous endeavors.

    I used to listen to Interventions & Lullabies and Dog Problems and almost ache because of how unfair it was that more people weren't aware of the music -- which is why NOW it's so incredible to me to not only hear Nate's voice on the radio, but to be able to hear it on multiple channels, bouncing between "Some Nights" on one station and "Just Give Me a Reason" on another. When fun. played at the White House, I was just blown away. I'm thrilled that Nate finally got the recognition that he has deserved for SO LONG. I can't wait to see what lies ahead.