Unlike most bands, FUN. is a second chance. Each of the three members of the band spent significant time writing and playing in other bands until each of these projects dissolved. Lead singer, Nate Ruess came from The Format, lead guitarist, Jack Antonoff came from Steel Train, and pianist Andrew Dost came from Anathallo (a central Michigan band made up of a group of some Christians trying to do good art in the public square, who played at Calvin several times). Joining forces, this trio has been making music for the last 4 years. In 2009 they released their first album, Aim and Ignite. And while FUN.’s popularity stems from being in a commercial during the 2012 Superbowl, their music has connected with audiences making them a true pop band, appealing to the masses.
Theatricality plays a large part of FUN.’s music; as a result Some Nights, their latest sophomore effort, is full of bombast and spectacle. The album is operatic in nature, illustrating one of FUN.’s clear influences: the band Queen. Some Nights contains strings, choirs, and other musical forces at work that increase the immensity of their sound. And Nate Ruess’ voice that cuts clearly through, singing with sheer force much like Freddie Mercury of Queen. As Tim Sendra of Allmusic notes, “He has the kind of voice that could cut through any amount of noise, not by using volume, but honesty.”
Ruess talks more about Queen’s influence when writing a song in Spin: “I don't follow a tempo, and it ends up becoming a story that's more woven, and I guess that makes it theatrical.” Amid the pop charts, it would be hard to find any kind of song that would have a radical tempo; much like Gotye’s instrumentation on "Somebody That I Used To Know," FUN.’s “We Are Young” stood out on the pop charts because of its guitar-fueled bombast and tempo fluctuations.
Certainly a welcome change, the theatrically of FUN.’s music adds to the assorted stories collected on Some Nights: stories of struggle in life, and the only way out is working through the pain with your friends and loved ones. People reflect “some nights” on their lives, their mortality, and the will to fight on, while the theatricality of the music elevates those struggles to epic proportions. A war is being fought in the daily lives of people struggling around us to establish identities, find love, and move on. The music asserts that these stories are just as powerful as anything else, and with the force of the music and Reuss’ voice, its hard to disagree.
Beyond the theatricality, FUN. is also quite earnest about the stories they seek to share. The honesty present in their music is refreshing; in the midst of postmodern irony, FUN. plays to the old tune of the “redemptive power of rock,” as Spin’s Maura Johnston explains. Tim Sendra reminds us that “the songs are both anthemic and human-sized, the heartfelt words and naked emotions are never buried, and the music is uplifting, not overpowering.” FUN. reminds us why music is so powerful to us in the first place; in a live concert, we can feel the beat of the drum like it is the pounding of our hearts. But perhaps foremost, FUN. is a lot of fun.
One of the keys to FUN.’s appeal to audiences this summer is the themes they have addressed on Some Nights. And like the majority of pop music, FUN. explores the joy and sorrow that are ever present in romantic relationships.
I wanna feel with the season. I guess it makes sense
cause my life’s become as vapid as a night out in Los Angeles
and I just want to stay in bed, and hold you like I used to
You know that I am home, so darling if you love me
would you let me know...
While a shallow reading of the lyrics would lead some to think these are merely songs glamorizing drug use, drinking and hooking up. On a second or third listen, one realizes that the lyrics speak to the loneliness and longing inherent in contemporary life. “All Alone” gets at it most directly with,
And I feel so all alone
No one's gonna fix me when I'm broke
How do you cry with inanimate eyes?
And the sadness in “All Alright” (which is a way of coping when it is not alright) is overwhelming,
And now all my loves that come back to haunt me.
My regrets and texts sent to taunt me.
I never claimed to be more than a one-night stand
And all I've given everyone I know
a good reason to go.
But I came back with the belief
that everyone I love is gonna leave me.
The current generation, having lived through an era of rampant divorce and broken relationships, has found a band who makes music that sounds and says how it feels to be lost and abandoned. Is it any wonder that our natural response is to put on a smile, try to escape, to trust no one, and feel that we must try to save ourselves?
“We Are Young” draws direct influence from the African-American spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It takes on the narrative that we cannot live life alone, we are in deep need of assistance from God and our friends. The spiritual sings,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for to carry me home.
A band of angels comin' after me,
Comin' for to carry me home.
If you get there before I do,
Comin' for to carry me home,
Tell all my friends I'm comin' too,
Comin' for to carry me home.
It is a song about a deep hope that someday, the struggle will be over and there will be a celebration. While set in the present day, the chorus of “We Are Young” shouts the same line, but as a question rather than an assurance of help,
So will someone come and carry me home tonight
The angels never arrived
But I can hear the choir
So will someone come and carry me home
It is also no accident that the chorus features Janelle Monae, an African-American, Georgia-based artist. And on “Carry On,” the band roams far from pop lyric territory, recounting a deep conversation about death and the meaning of life,
So I met up with some friends
at the edge of the night
At a bar off 75
And we talked and talked
about how our parents will die
All our neighbours and wives
While we might try to escape the questions of our own worth and who we are? It seems that we will always return to our regrets, our fears and insecurities. FUN. helps us understand our human condition, living in a deeply scarred world, and deeply in need of a way to celebrate our shared concern for each other.
- Jacqueline Ristola & Greg Veltman