fun. was one of the breakout musical acts of 2012. Not because this album sold so many copies, but rather it was thanks to bumps from a Super Bowl commercial and Glee that the alt-pop-rock trio's massively melodic hit "We Are Young" eventually spent six weeks at No. 1. That song was followed by the title track, which made it to No. 3.
And if ever there was a band that seemed ready-made for the Glee set, fun. is it. Singer Nate Ruess' tenor soars melodramatically into Freddie Mercury territory as he marches through melodramatic subject matter. Add in Jack Antonoff's blazing, Brian May-inspired guitar work and these super-hipster stars sound more than a little like a latter-day Queen.
The comparison doesn't stop there. Just as Queen's lead singer occasionally delivered devastatingly poignant lyrics about his sense of life's emptiness ("Who wants to live forever" he asked in a song with the same name, "when love must die?") so fun.'s frontman skewers virtually everything in his lyrical path … including any hope of salvation, earthly or heavenly.
"Carry On" offers a rare glimmer of hope as it encourages listeners with, "If you're lost and alone/Or you're sinking like a stone/Carry on/ … 'Cause we are/We are shining stars/We are invincible/We are who we are/On our darkest day/When we're miles away/Sun will come/We will find our way home."
On "All Alright," Ruess expresses surprise at a friend's faithfulness ("I've given everyone I know/A good reason to go/I was surprised you stuck around/Long enough to figure out/That it's all alright").
"Some Nights" longingly exclaims, "I could use some friends for a change," but …
… it's a sentiment punctuated with, "Who the f‑‑‑ wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?" The song also cynically labels love a "con," apparently in the context of a sister who's now a single mom after the man she thought she loved has left her: "My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she calls love/And when I look into my nephew's eyes/Man, you wouldn't believe the most amazing things that can come from/Some terrible lies." There's also a hint that the singer is looking for meaning and love in an empty sexual relationship.
He doesn't find it. Indeed, fun. repeatedly suggests that any kind of salvation is a foolish mirage, be it supernatural, astrological or relationship-based. On "Some Nights (Intro)," Ruess sings, "There are some nights I wait for someone to save us/But I never look inward, try not to look upward/And some nights I pray a sign is gonna come to me/But usually I'm just trying to get some sleep." Despite its hopeful chorus, "Carry On" fixates on the inevitability of death. And on "Stars," we hear, "I used to think this was all ours/We'd stay up late, debate on how we'd find our way/Say it's all up in the stars/ … Why can't you see that no one's gonna save us?/ … I close my eyes and think about tomorrow/It never came true."
"Some Nights (Intro)" responds to that hopeless vision of the world with, "Some nights I say 'f‑‑‑ it all' and stare at the calendar/Waiting for catastrophes, imagine when they scare me/ … And you have every right to be scared."
Ruess knows he's not easy to be around. That same song finds him asking a friend (or perhaps lover) who's stuck around despite his self-loathing, "And you, why you wanna stay?/Oh my god! Have you been listening to me lately?/Lately I've been going f‑‑‑ing crazy."
"It Gets Better," a title lifted from a pro-homosexuality YouTube campaign for youth, never directly references that subject. But it does include these more-than-suggestive lyrics: "I can taste your summer sweat/I've never been so warm/So can we kick the covers off?" "One Foot" apparently involves a gay guy seeking to end his life after being told by the church that his sexual identity is sinful: "I happened to stumble upon a chapel last night/And I can't help but back up when I think of what happens inside/I got friends locked in boxes, no way to live/But you call it sin, isn't up to them/After all, after all I thought we were all your children/But I will die for my sins, thanks a lot." The chorus mourns, "I put one foot in front of the other one/I don't need a new love or a new life, just a better place to die."
"Why Am I the One?" talks of a hopelessly broken and physically abusive relationship ("I got enough on my mind that when she pulls me by the hair/She hasn't much to hold onto"). On "All Alone," a man jokes about buying a toy "wind-up souvenir" of a woman to replace the real one who's left him even as he admits, "I feel so all alone/No one's gonna fix me when I'm broke." Ultimately, pessimism permeates "All Alright," where we hear, "Everyone I love is gonna leave me."
On "Some Nights," Nate Ruess confesses, "Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for," then asks, "What do I stand for? What do I stand for?/Most nights, I don't know anymore." It's an honest, if bleak assessment of life's disorienting emptiness … an achingly hopeless message that turns up over and over again in these songs.
Ruess and Co. don't put any stock in spiritual solutions. Neither the church on earth nor the stars above can save them. Indeed, it's quite the opposite, as far as fun. is concerned. And this baleful band isn't placing any bets on earthly love either. With the exception of isolated admonitions to carry on, there's little, it seems, to hope for or to live for in a world full of isolation, disappointment and rejection. About the best you can do, taking these lyrics seriously, is head down to the local watering hole, get desperately drunk and hope you can find a friend willing to drag your sodden self home to face another meaningless day when you come to the next afternoon.
But that's only if your friends don't abandon you too.
Despite the band's infectious, sing-along sound, then, the hopeless, nihilistic message it ultimately delivers is anything but fun. Maybe it's time for a new name: grim.