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An Eclectic Masterpiece
on February 22, 2012
First, a word about the auto-tuning. I will say that I am generally averse to electric manipulation of the voice. The difference here is that Fun. uses auto-tuning, not to compensate for the soloist's inability to sing (as a disturbingly increasing number of popular artists do these days -- as we have seen in his live performances Nate Ruess can really belt one out). Fun. uses auto-tune as a completely valid musical instrument; it's done tastefully and appropriately, not to compensate for some vocal shortcoming. Sans auto-tune, Nate Ruess is a strong high tenor who sings without vibrato, making his high notes in "We Are Young" sound pretty effortless.
The record is one where you don't find yourself skipping over tracks. Each is packed with a catchy melody. There is not one weak link in the record, with the exception being "It Gets Better" (track 5), but even this is not a bad song at all.
For many, "We Are Young," with its massive, anthemic chorus used in a Chevy commercial and episode of Fox's Glee, is the track that exposed them to Fun. For the rest of us that have been with Nate since his days in The Format, this record is the sophomore record with Fun., following the phenomenal "Aim and Ignite." There is no "sophomore slump" here where a good indie band becomes a bit more popular and a bit more commercialized. Rather Fun. has partly moved away from the sound of "Aim and Ignite" developed their own sound out of an effective blending of different styles and genres:
At some instances ("Intro" and "Some Nights") Nate Ruess seems to summon Queen. The chorus "Why Am I the One" is tinged with early Elton John. Select bars in "All Alone" echo of early Maroon5, while a heavy bass and short, simple ostinato in "One Foot" are quite obviously Ruess's use of hip-hop elements. This track is a standout, showcasing Fun.'s songwriting ability -- a melody that builds in intensity over a simple repetition of a simple 1-1-4-5 chord progression. The track "Stars" starts out as a run-of-the-mill alternative rock piece, then without transition, changes character into an extended R&B influenced segment with effective (not compensatory) use of auto-tune cradled by classically-inspired strings. It blends these influences together into something original-sounding, while somehow retaining its indie roots. Each song is in a key signature that is closely related the previous song, making the entire album fit together as one whole, well-crafted structure. Musicians will be thrilled at this.
Musically, the songs are filled with masterful instrumentations and compositional techniques that keep the listening experience interesting. For example, stark tempo changes, as in "We Are Young," and modulations to minor key as in the end of "One Foot" aren't just clever insertions. Rather, they compliment the already memorable melodies.