Review Summary: Aim and Ignite is a a superbly mixed and arranged pop album.
While tears were shed and rumours milled over the Format’s sudden split last year, frontman Nate Ruess quietly went about his business. He assembled an entirely new project with ex-Anatholla member Andrew Dost and Steel Train frontman Jack Antonoff. They called themselves fun., though anybody with the misfortune of writing about them on a word processor can attest to just how miserable an experience it is. The shuffling of the frontline doesn’t tell the whole story, however: behind the scenes, there’s a great deal of continuity between 2006’s surprise hit Dog Problems
and fun.’s debut LP, Aim and Ignite
. Producer Steven McDonald, himself a veteran of ‘90s power pop outfit Redd Kross, returns to produce, but what’s most notable is that Ruess has retained the services of keyboardist Roger Manning, Jr., former member of criminally underappreciated retro pop trio Jellyfish.
Manning was a bit-part contributor to Dog Problems
, but here his influence is everywhere. The Format were heavily invested in the more ornate pop stylings of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, but despite that they possessed all the trappings of an indie rock band. fun., by contrast, are a straightforward backward-looking pop act, just like Jellyfish. I wouldn’t be so crass as to suggest that Manning is the reason Aim and Ignite
sounds the way it does; in fact, it’s far more likely that he was drafted to help the band realise their own grandiose aspirations. Nevertheless, the similarities are at times striking, and one could be forgiven for thinking Jellyfish are fun.’s earliest influence. There’s the obvious Queen-like vocal harmonies of ‘Benson Hedges’ and ‘All The Pretty Girls’; the baroque harpsichord of ‘I Wanna Be The One’ and the kitchen-sink arrangement of opener ‘Be Calm,’ but they often feel like influences that have been inherited rather than absorbed at the source.
Fortunately, repeated listens reveal much more to Aim and Ignite
’s armoury. Opener ‘Be Calm’ is a classic case as “do as I say, not as I do”: beginning with a twee pump organ-and-violin intro, the song becomes an urgent and spell-binding duet between Ruess and ex-that dog. singer Anna Waronker, encapsulating far too many instruments to name and numerous complementary and contrasting melodies. ‘Benson Hedges’ kicks off with close vocal harmonies reminiscent of Queen’s ‘Fat-Bottomed Girls,’ but the melody itself has an unmistakeable southern gospel element (in contrast to the otherwise fairly dreary verse), while the showtune aesthetic of ‘Light A Roman Candle With Me’ is a disarming in a pleasant way. ‘The Gambler’ sits somewhere between ‘Piano Man’ and the Cheers
theme, evoking the over-the-top romanticism of a West End musical with the line ”I swear when I grow up, I won’t just buy you a rose, I will buy the flower shop and you will never be lonely.”
Aim and Ignite
isn’t the most consistent pop album around, and it obviously doesn’t suffer from an excessive compliment of originality, but it’s a superbly mixed and arranged album made by musicians who clearly understand the limits and potential of pop music. It would be trite to conclude that fun.’s potential is limitless, but Aim and Ignite
is a very exciting launch-pad.