Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don't know.
The titular song on Some Nights, the latest effort from fun., appropriately describes the central thesis of the album. On their site, frontman Nate Ruess says, "When I think thematically of what this album is about, I think about how many of the songs are about trying to figure out just who you are, and the optimism and perseverance that results in doing so." With Some Nights, fun. has found who they are and what they stand for. It might not be to everyone's liking, or what was expected, but it's confident, well put together, and one heck of a ride.
Previous albums from fun. and predecessor The Format, like Aim & Ignite and Dog Problems, are held up as a gold standard of modern pop work. Some Nights, though, stretches its wings. While perhaps not revolutionizing what it means to be a pop album, it does push the genre to its limits. This is pushed forward by producer Jeff Bhasker, perhaps best known for working with Kanye West on 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The hip-hop influence is notable, with heavy beats and autotuned vocals taking center stage on several tracks. These traits are startling at first but it's immediately evident that they aren't used as a crutch like they might be for a number of other artists. (If you don't believe that Ruess doesn't need help with his vocals, check out an acoustic rendition of "Carry On".) Instead, they're tools and instruments as much as the guitar or piano are and help give an enigmatic quality to the tracks on which they're used. It's most notable in closing track "Stars," where the autotune effect makes such lyrics as, "You, you're always holding onto stars/I think they're better from afar/Because no one here's gonna save us" appropriately surreal. Not only does it not detract from the song, but it actually becomes part of the form and function of it.
This isn't to say that the entire album is a one-note send-up to hip-hop and Top 40 pop songs; quite the opposite, in fact. It starts with "Some Nights Intro," which might as well have been ripped from a Queen set list. It transitions into irresistibly catchy title track, and then to the ambitious, anthemic "We Are Young," which absolutely deserves the publicity it has received up to this point. There's the guitar driven "Why Am I The One," personal favorite "All Alone," which again draws from hip-hop roots, and the bonus track "Out On The Town" sounds perhaps the most like old school Format/fun. work.
This review doesn't cover all of the tracks, but trying to describe each of them would be an exercise in futility. This is an album that deserves to be listened to, to be dissected, because there's so much in each song, whether that be the disparate musical influences or clever and hard-hitting lyrics or Nate Ruess's excellent vocals. If you're wary, give it a chance. You're bound to find something you enjoy.