Friday, September 7, 2012

Review - fun. - Some Nights

Two years ago fun. put out their debut album, Aim & Ignite, and it quickly shot to the top of my personal playlist where it has remained since, helping me make it through the infamous Music Drought of 2011. Now the boys are back, fighting hard to beat the sophomore jinx. The problem is that their first album was a glorious once-in-a-lifetime catharsis, a kind of modern Pet Sounds built around quasi-spiritual themes of personal regeneration wherein they invited the listener along on the journey. On Some Nights they revisit these themes, expanding their already broad array of sounds to make an even bigger rock orchestra. If these three gentlemen were not as impressive talented songwriters as they are such overblown production could easily explode and overshadow the meat of the music.

As on their previous album there is a kind of introductory song, in this case the song is actually titled “Some Nights Intro,” opening in a whisper of self confession before venturing into a slew of sonic effects and ending with a dramatic symphonic sweep. The title song hits you with a wall of vocals that would please Queen before jumping into an energetic African revival beat. This mirrors the first album in song layout, which is a curious choice but not in itself a bad thing. “Some Nights” is the first of too many songs that seem to be a kind of crowd sing along, like they anticipate fans singing along at live shows and recorded the future. “We Are Young” is a peppy song about bar hopping that quickly switches to a plodding synthy sing-along song where it spends the majority of its duration. The band picks up the ball in “Carry On”, telling about a night in a bar with old friends along with wisdom such as “If you’re lost and alone / Or you’re sinking like a stone / Carry on.” A sizzling guitar solo leads into the group-sing portion as violins and an accordion give the song a Celtic bar song feel. However in “It Gets Better” the band pulls out the stops, starting with a stuttering drum and vocoder vocals before slamming into a thick bass-drum beat that whips you around the frantic melody.

Whereas some bands like to build a song from a slow simmer to a big crescendo fun. tends to cram as many different parts into a four minute song as possible (see “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Wings as an influence.) In the amazing “Why Am I The One” there is a verse melody, played in three starkly different variations, a big chorus (with the revelatory lyrics of “For once I get the feeling that I’m right where I belong”) , and two completely different bridges. Classify this music as “pop” if you want but its sophisticated pop that goes down easy but is full of complex nuances. “All Alone” is about falling in love with a wind-up souvenir, a breezy, quirky song full of toy pianos, some very tasty guitar tones, a dad-blurned catchy chorus and half of a marching band. “All Alright” is another sing-along while “One Foot” beats the same horn-driven measure ad nauseum, which is extremely inexplicable for a band who normally keeps things varied. At best these two songs are boring and are easily skipped over to get to “Stars,” the final non-bonus song. Nearly seven minutes in length “Stars” is a summation of the album, looking back on his past and reveling in his present, zooming along with horns and crazy guitars for two minutes before settling into a loungy riff set to strings. Here the vocals are processed through a vocoder, auto-tune, and a few other effects, growing more and more bizarre as the song nears its end.

It’s no mistake that fun. teamed up to record a song with Panic at the Disco last year. They are from the same planet musically though they speak slightly different dialects. However Panic’s sophomore album was a huge creative leap forward while fun. takes a small step back and to the side. Some Nights is a very good album and some of the songs even approach greatness, but it’s missing the magic pixie dust of their debut.

Postscript: Since I wrote this I've found that I'm not listening to it much. It's just kind of bland. I'd give it a 7 out of 10. My eleven year old daughter loves LOVES LOVES the single, a song which I find to be simplistically beneath their abilities. But hey, if they want to follow the dollar it's their life.

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