You don’t have to listen too hard or too long to fun.‘s Some Nights before two things are very clear:
1. Nate Ruess is documenting an existential crisis in his lyrics.
2. This is an (almost absurdly) enthusiastic musical foil for it.
I don’t often mention lyrics at Independent Clauses unless their significance is tremendously foregrounded, as is the case here. Ruess is not obscuring anything in poetics: he attacks religion in “One Foot,” appropriates the now-iconic line “It Gets Better” in the song of the same name, references his parents a lot, and gets a children’s choir to sing “I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest, but it’s all alright” with him (“All Alright”).
Does that sound like an album that would extensively use vocoder, hang a whole tune on a hip-hop style big brass sample (“One Foot,” again), record the majority of the catchiest song with drums and multi-tracked vocals as the focus, or get a #1 chart slot with a hooky radio single? No. But it’s both things, and that’s why this album is so beguiling.
The easy-to-spot high point of the album is the title track, where the multi-tracked vocals, rumbling toms and clapping produce an exuberance that is unrivaled on the album or in any other song I’ve heard this year. I can barely suppress dancing when I hear it (and most times I don’t try to). There are woah-ohs throughout. There’s a an autotune/vocoder breakdown. There’s a guitar solo ending the song. There’s so much singing along. It’s just absolutely wonderful. The accompanying lyrics are some of the most hopeful on the album, as Ruess sings, “Man you wouldn’t believe/the most amazing things/they can come from some terrible nights.” It’s an early contender for song of the year.
“We Are Young,” their hit, is next, and it’s great. You’ve probably heard it. I like it. You like it. Next!
After that is where things start to get more difficult for me to grasp. The acoustic instrumentation of “Carry On” is strongly reminiscent of Ruess’ former outfit, The Format—except for the weird ’80s percussion. “It Gets Better” starts off with a grating rhythmic break, but segues into an intriguing electro-punk tune. “Why Am I the One” has an excellent vocal contribution from Ruess and beautiful arrangement, but has frustratingly contradictory lyrics in the chorus (“For once, for once, for once, I got the feeling that I’m right where I belong / so why am I the one always packing up my stuff?”).
The whole album goes like that, with elements of the songs pulling at each other. It neatly mirrors the conflict that Ruess is singing about, but it doesn’t make for easy listening. It’s really weird to hum “And I feel so all alone!” triumphantly, but listening to this album will cause that to happen.
I can unreservedly recommend both the music and lyrics of “Some Nights,” as I’ve been looping it consistently for several weeks now. The rest of the album is a challenging but interesting listen, as Ruess and co. are talented songwriters and arrangers. I suspect this will resonate deeply with some who prize emotional rawness in lyrics and fall completely flat with others who go in expecting 9 variations on the lyrical theme of “We Are Young.” If you’re in it for music you can’t hear anywhere else, then you’re certainly in for a treat.