Following Fun’s massive success, particularly on the back of We Are Young, Nate Ruess, the band’s lead singer, has branched out on his own with Grand Romantic, and it doesn’t take long to realise that he is the core essence of Fun. But without Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, Grand Romantic fails to be little more than a pale imitation of a landmark album.
What made Fun so, well, a, was the universality of their themes backed by major hooks, anthemic arena stompers, and a voice that could be both uplifting and devastating. Much of that has been purged in this album, which evidently aims to be a lot more vulnerable. It’s meant to be a personal experience, but Ruess falls short and cannot really get the listener to care because of a lack of nuance and conflict in the music.
The title track seems to parody itself with its generic attempt at churning out a slow-burn love ballad, while the only memorable moments on the meant-to-be-fun opener, AhHa, are when Ruess channels his inner Ed Sheeran or uses a direct sample from Fun’s Some Nights.
He makes a valiant but desperate attempt at maintaining our interest with Great Big Storm, mercilessly belting out large, heaving notes, only to learn the Jessie J lesson — merely throwing your voice all over the place does not make for good music.
There are still some relatively decent moments though. Piano-driven single Nothing without Love stumbles over from unbearably whiny to at least being tolerable upon repeated listens. What This World Is Coming To is perhaps where the album shines brightest, bringing us a perfect indie-country fusion in a masterstroke that becomes apparent the moment Grammy-winner Beck’s voice chimes in with Ruess, seeping into the pre-chorus with the visceral lines “I watched as your wrists began to bruise/ Threading ribbons weaving patterns/ Beautiful and blue.”
Even Beck’s welcome appearance isn’t enough to save this tragic album though. There’s no grand romance here, no eternal love, not even an impassioned summer fling, just an album struggling to make so much as a dent of an impression.