After his cult-famous band The Format went on a hiatus in 2008, Nate Ruess and FUN. jet setted to everyone’s car radio with the explosive track “We Are Young.” In the past year or two, FUN.’s members have stepped away to pursue side projects, with Jack Antonoff diving into indie pop outfit Bleachers, Andrew Dost scoring movies, and Ruess going solo. Here’s a track-by-track first listen of Ruess’ solo debut Grand Romantic.
- “Grand Romantic – Intro”
At only 46 seconds, the brief intro depicts a chorus of female voices, introducing the Grand Romantic, assuming to be Ruess, through song. Near the end, laughter emerges, an understandable segway into the aptly titled second track. The theatrical nature of “Grand Romantic – Intro” shapes Grand Romantic into a listening experience, setting the stage for what’s to come.
“AhHa” is the perfect opening track to a musician’s first solo album. The beginning’s powerful repetition of “ah-ha” could potentially come across as brash, but instead frames the monumental nature of the song, pushing the boundaries of typical pop mentalities. Pleasing the FUN. fan in all of us, before the start of the chorus, Ruess pays a ode to Some Nights with “oh, it’s for the best you didn’t listen, it’s for the best we kept our distance.” The sound is new enough to be unique and progressive, but reminiscent enough of FUN. that a fan of one is a fan of both. Possibly disjointed on paper, the graceful combination of all the track’s individual parts displays Ruess’ impeccable musicianship.
- “Nothing Without Love”
The lyrics in “Nothing Without Love” advertise Ruess’ brilliance as a songwriter. A new twist on a common theme, missing home and your loved ones presumably while on tour, he masterfully chronicles a personal tale through the simple yet beautiful love song. Leaving the traditional verse-chorus song archetype behind, “Nothing Without Love” repeats a few lines twice, focusing on the strong and revealing “I am nothing without love.” The symbiotic contrast between “AhHa” and “Nothing Without Love” display Ruess’ versatility and range as a musician.
- “Take It Back”
In “Take It Back,” Ruess again rearranges the traditional song outline. His Grand Romantic is starting to show through the desperate yet lovely lyrics, telling a heartfelt story through verse. A guitar solo interrupts Ruess’ halfway through, simultaneously adding depth and giving the song the extra push it needed to stand tall next to the two previous tracks.
- “You Light My Fire”
Picking up the pace from “Take It Back,” “You Light My Fire” is a jaunty fun number that adds a lightheartedness to the album. In between a series of amusing “woos,” Ruess tells a story of a night on the town with a pretty girl. A pattern is emerging: each track is an entity, a story, a scene from Ruess’ past encounters with love, causing Grand Romantic to quickly feel like the script to a movie.
- “What This World is Coming to (feat. Beck)”
A break from electronic-tinged melodies, the more organic sounding “What This World is Coming to” is a mainly acoustic track, pairing Ruess’ ever-strong vocals with Beck’s, forming a symbiotic relationship that propels the song to be one of the Grand Romantic highlights thus far. Appearing to address Ruess’ love life after he and his music achieved fame, one of the first verses reads “I’d hate for you to love me, ‘cause you saw me out with someone who you read about in the news.” The finale harmonies between Ruess and Beck simultaneously tug at your heartstrings and end the charming track on a high note.
- “Great Big Storm”
I’ve only listened to “Great Big Storm” once, but I already have it stuck in my head. Probably the catchiest so far, the track feels most suggestive of Some Nights-era FUN., but not necessarily in a bad way. Beginning with a strong and captivating chant, the rest of the song continues to deliver, especially the bridge, which find Ruess showing off his melodic spoken word talent.
Possibly Grand Romantic’s best aspect, Ruess’ vocals, rather than instrumentals, are shamelessly the focus of each track. Epitomized in “Moment,” the ballad, screaming desperation, chronicles the humanizing experience of relationships. At this point, however, while all beautiful in its own, intricate way, I’m looking for something to hit as strong as “AhHa.”
- “It Only Gets Much Worse”
Apparent in FUN., but amplified on Grand Romantic, Ruess possesses a talent for creating small special moments in songs, whether it a be a disjointed instrumental chord, an unexpected sing-along, or a section of spoken word, that flow miraculously and harmoniously with surrounding melodies. Seen in the exciting bridge of “It Only Gets Much Worse,” the track is another ballad advertising Ruess’ voice of a generation. With “her eyes just like your’s, just different” and “what didn’t mean a thing destroyed us both,” “It Only Gets Much Worse” appears to detail an unfortunate and heavy time when the Grand Romantic cheated on their partner.
- “Grand Romantic”
The epitome of a title track, “Grand Romantic” truly pulls the entire album together into one cohesive unit. Now clear, the song’s lyrics and tempos are mirroring the decline of a happy relationship, through to breakup, and its ensuing aftermath. Once again, Ruess’ vocals are put on display with the simple yet captivating repetition of “I just wanted you so bad,” a line that spans a decent amount of the song. When remnants from the intro expand into “I don’t want to live as the Grand Romantic anymore,” Grand Romantic becomes whole, giving the record a cyclical and complete feel.
- “Harsh Lights”
“Harsh Lights” is everything the end of Grand Romantic needed. Displaying Ruess’ cleverness in songwriting, some of the lyrics, “I would make the first move but I’m too drunk to enunciate,” even make you chuckle. If “Grand Romantic” detailed the aftermath after losing “the one that got away,” “Harsh Lights,” amid a background of “we all got scars,” is the first attempt at moving forward. The way Ruess sings “slippin’ into midnight under harsh lights” is just so good that repeating the line could be a song in itself.
A quirky end to a quirky album, “Brightside,” while not as powerful as I wanted it to be, is still a solid and satisfying finale. Inquisitive and reflective of the entire album’s concept, the track is another ballad archiving post-relationship emotions. Sounding purposely simple, musicianship takes the backseat on this track, allowing the lyrics to assume center stage, closing the Grand Romantic’s story with an insightful finish.
Nate Ruess’ revolutionary spin on indie pop archetypes, the same kind of cleverness and flair that got heads turning with FUN, is refreshing and indicative of his a natural born musical talent. However, Ruess is not only a talented singer, but also an exceptional frontman, songwriter, and producer, a fact that shines through on his solo debut Grand Romantic. Incredibly wholesome and rich, Ruess capitalizes on craftiness and class to ensure the record doesn’t over do it with indulgence. Each song appears as if Ruess is reflecting on his, particularly romantic, life, creating a theatrical album that could easily be modeled into a movie or a musical on Broadway.