Review Summary: On its first listen Aim And Ignite is pretty much the definition of fun; as it sinks in it reveals its depth and complexity, and it's basically impossible to come out the same way you started.
You can't make much more of an opening statement than fun. have. Their band name is a three-letter message of intent with abrupt punctuation for dramatic effect. Their debut album's artwork comprises almost exclusively primary colours in a deliberately basic design. Track five, and the first single, is opaquely titled At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be). You can't make much more of a statement. They've called their first record Aim And Ignite, and it's got songs called All The Pretty Girls and Light A Roman Candle With Me. They've written blogs galore about 'moving up, out, onwards' and how, finally, they're where they want to be. No, you can't make much more of a statement. Until you start playing.
It's funny when Nate Ruess, formerly of The Format, sings 'be calm'
in the chorus of Aim And Ignite's opening song, because he's not. He never is. By the time three minutes have passed, he's shouting maniacally atop stomping, theatrical guitars, strings and trumpets, and that's when you realise fun. have nothing calm about them. Their debut album is a passionate performance which moves with urgency, even when it's not quick, but it's more than that. It's huge. It employs an orchestra, a gospel choir, female backing vocalists, horns, handclaps, and an insane number of session musicians, and it manages to never, ever
get lost beneath its weight. Steel Train's Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost (formerly of Anathallo) join Ruess to make up the foundations – the guitars that drive everything and form the base from which to work. But what grows from it is huge
It's difficult to know where to start in terms of influence. Classic 60s and 70s pop music melds with modern-day indie-rock for the most part, but it's nowhere near single-minded or simple. It's a record which clearly owns its own skeleton; it never imitates or copies, but borrows ideas in their most abstract forms to re-shape and transform them. Like the start of the 8-minute closer, Take Your Time (Coming Home), which initially recalls one of the low-pitched chants from the Lion King, and re-uses those same da-na-na
s midway through as Ruess argues his case against anyone who doubted him after The Format broke down. There are lyrical flashbacks to his previous band everywhere, both in quick one-liners ('I'm through with causing a scene'
) and entire stanzas of reflection. But fun. is a damn accurate name, and Ruess is not a bitter man. He's fucking
happy. There's a constant thread of unrestrained joy running through Aim And Ignite, as he delivers his typically razor-sharp observations in much the same way he used to, except this time, the underlying pain is gone, stripped away, revealing an open layer of ecstasy.
It's there in the music, but it's executed in so many different ways. I Wanna Be The One's brass-supported, head-bopping intro is far from the euphoric provocation of Benson Hedges' chorus hook – 'Holy Ghost, won't you come out to play! 'Cause if the Lord's gonna find me … he'd better start lookin' today!'
– and Walking The Dog's electronic quirkiness sounds nothing like The Gambler's inherent optimism, but it's all part of the same dynamic. Whethe r Ruess is putting on his softest, most pensive tones or shrieking the room to pieces, there's an unrelenting sense of don't-look-back happiness which, in all its beauty, is the life and soul of Aim And Ignite. It's a fun
record, but it's not mindless or simplistic. These songs change direction and move, vibrant and alive with their enthusiasm and joyous abandon, often driven by the subtlest of things, like the unconventional and cheerful piano line that maintains the tension of Benson Hedges' second verse.
And then there's The Gambler, a piano-led ode to Ruess' parents. Though it gains cinematic atmosphere later on through its background strings, it remains evidently personal and emotional, with some absolute gems of poetry, and when it hits the climactic line 'You swore you'd be here 'til we decide that it's our time, but it's not time, you never quit in all your life'
, Ruess threatens to spill over for the first time. It's not a weighted feeling, though, it's celebratory, and that's where Aim And Ignite succeeds in prolific style – it sounds
fist-punchingly unrestrained and emphatic with the handclaps in All The Pretty Girls' bridge, but that's nothing without the soul and intelligence underneath. The slight hesitation in Be Calm's 'these days before you speak to me you … pause'
is one of the hundreds of fleeting, delightful things to grin about for a split-second before you've heard another one.
I tried so hard not to give this record a 5 but on scrutiny it simply gets better and better, and the more familiar it becomes, the more in love you fall. For the most part, the songs on fun.'s debut album sound like more restrained cross-sections of Dog Problems' title-track, injecting pop music with rock, soul, vigour and energy and not once sounding like it gives a damn about the outside world. It's sugary and sometimes sweet to a massive degree, but its track listing enables Aim And Ignite to rise and fall dramatically and creatively without any sort of formula emerging. The only thing these songs have in common is their desire to make people happy
, and that intention seems minor in comparison to their actual effect. It's practically impossible to come out the other end in the same mood you entered with, because Aim And Ignite is an album which picks you up and gets the hairs on the back of your neck tingling like all the best pop records do. Forget about The Format. Hell, forget about the Beach Boys. This is perfect.