New York-based band fun. have released their debut record, Aim and Ignite, and I am an unabashed fan (thanks, Kirsten, for the heads up!). Formed by Nate Ruess, previously the lead singer of The Format, fun. shares some of the unabashed pop sensibilities of that band. However, as opposed to the straight up guitar power pop of The Format, fun. takes things in an outlandish direction of magnified sugar and, well, fun. Pulling out all the stops, Ruess channels Freddie Mercury at almost every turn, and the arrangements of the songs at times veer from A Night at the Opera on speed to Caribbean-tinged bounce to sweet, symphonic strings liberally garnished with Sgt. Pepper-style horns. The most obvious comparison that will inevitably be made here is with The Darkness, as fun. shares the same tongue in cheek throwback style, but none of it really ever comes off as an act like The Darkness often did for me.
Opening track “Be Calm” is anything but what the title suggests, and it’s one of the better lead-off tracks I’ve heard on an album in quite some time. The song begins with a quite beautiful string and accordion intro before Ruess breaks in with his faux-classical vocals. What follows is a wild four minute ride of shifting tempos and some pretty incredible vocal turns from Ruess, as well as the aforementioned horn. When the electric guitar kicks in, the song really takes flight, taking the listener on a manic ride as Ruess sings about paranoia (The beggars near bodegas grin at me/I think they want something/I close my eyes, I tell myself to breathe). “All The Pretty Girls” is the most straight forward rock song here, and the Queen comparisons here are apt (in no way is that meant as a negative; I love Queen!). The heavily overdubbed backing vocals are reminiscent of “Killer Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but the melody itself is also reminiscent of the underrated early 90’s band Jellyfish. Another obvious standout is “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)”, an incredibly catchy and childlike song that copies the melody of a playground taunt as Ruess sings about abandoning friends and lovers in his relentless pursuit of the rock (I don’t keep friends,I keep acquainted).
I can absolutely see fun. as a love them or hate them kind of band, just as The Darkness were before them. It’s difficult for a band to make such unapologetically bombastic pop songs without experiencing at least some measure of backlash. However, there is a depth to fun.’s songs, a sincerity and underlying emotion in their lyrics, that belies a band with more than just a gimmick behind their sound. This is further demonstrated on some of Aim and Ignite‘s quieter tracks, such as “The Gambler” and “Light A Roman Candle With Me.” These tracks are driven by not much more than Ruess’s vocals and a piano, and they manage to convey both playfulness and maturity at the same moment, indicating that there just might be more to fun. than their band name implies.
**UPDATE** – Apparently Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., the former keyboardist for Jellyfish, is responsible for the arrangements on Aim and Ignite, so I guess my Jellyfish comparison was apt. The Jellyfish influence can be heard throughout the album.
fun. – “Be Calm”
fun. – “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)”