Along with fellow newcomers Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, the lowercase pop trio known as fun. (so named to be differentiated from another band named Fun) is rapidly becoming one of the musical success stories of 2012.
As was the case with the breakthrough No. 1 smash "We Are Young" earlier this year, this title track from fun.'s second album is rousingly anthemic, drenched in lush, soaring vocals and marching to the steady beat of a simple drum throughout—sounding for all the world like an '80s act that stumbled into a time machine.
If the band's sound unabashedly channels buoyant feelings of upbeat yearning, however, this song's words are decidedly murkier. Ambivalence, confusion, cynicism, rebellion and conflict all lurk in equal measures within the opaque lyrics of "Some Nights."
A harmonized, a cappella intro sets the uneasy stage, venting mixed feelings about, it seems, life in general: "Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck/Some nights I call it a draw/Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle/Some nights I wish they'd just fall off."
From there, the song's lyrics wander several divergent paths.
At first it seems as if frontman Nate Ruess might stick to exploring feelings of loss and confusion after someone close has either died or left him: "But I still wake up," he confesses, "I still see your ghost/Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for, oh/What do I stand for? What do I stand for?"
It's a repeated question that the song doesn't really ever answer.
Then, other lyrical clues hint that the tune is, at least in part, about a troubled romance. "I found a martyr in my bed tonight," Ruess confesses. But he's not really interested in her as much as he's interested in how she helps him sort through his confusing identity issues: "She stops my bones from wondering just who I am, who I am, who I am/Oh, who am I?" The song's conclusion reiterates the sense that this relationship is over: "I called you up, but we'd both agree/It's for the best you didn't listen/It's for the best we get our distance."
And the lovers' failure has sent the singer's cynicism soaring. He no longer sees beauty and grandeur as sources of romantic inspiration ("When I see the stars, that's all they are/When I hear songs, they sound like this one, so come on/ … Five minutes in, and I'm bored again"). Things get even bleaker when he comments on his sister's successful romance, "My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she calls 'love'." Then he adds darkly, "When I look into my nephew's eyes/Man, you wouldn't believe the most amazing things that can come from/Some terrible lies." The song doesn't spell things out absolutely here, but the lie, just like the con, certainly seems to be love.
That bitterness leaks into other subjects as well. Ruess rebelliously suggests, "This is it, boys, this is war/What are we waiting for?/Why don't we break the rules already?" On the heels of that suggestion, he lashes out against critics and copycats alike, singing, "I try twice as hard, and I'm half as liked/But here they come again to jack my style."
And it all leaves him wondering if the sacrifices he's made (perhaps both in romance and in his career) have been worth it: "So this is it? I sold my soul for this?/ Washed my hands of that for this?" Disillusionment reaches a profane apex with, "This one is not for the folks at home/Sorry to leave, Mom, I had to go/Who the f‑‑‑ wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?"
At the end of it all, I'm not sure whether the main subject of "Some Nights" is life, love or career—or all of the above. That said, I'm definitely sure that the singer's toxic sense of alienation comes through loud and clear.
A video for such a song, of course, could go in myriad directions, all of them easily anticipated … except for the one the band actually chose. It finds members smack in the middle of the Civil War, singing their hearts out as soldiers from the North and the South try hard to kill one another with muskets and bayonets.
The tragedy of war is at the fore as the camera focuses on a victim from each side: a gentle, pastoral farmer who loves his horses, and a young man who's seen kissing and caressing his sweetheart. Neither survive, with the farmer getting the bloody business end of a bayonet in a violent conclusion.
It's a compelling narrative and visual backdrop to the angst-ridden song, to be sure. Or, you could say that it only adds another melancholy layer to an already problematic story. What does it all mean? Well, even the guys in fun. may not know, as they sing, "What do I stand for?/Most nights I don't know anymore."