Ever since The Format held their first practice in 2001, Nate Ruess has fit the definition of the modern rock star. His work with The Format and fun. is explosive, perpetuating music's ability to influence people’s energy.
Now, with fun. on a hiatus, Ruess has an opportunity to perpetuate his success with a solo album. Grand Romantic, released Tuesday, has Ruess’ signature larger-than-life spirit, but, by the end, the record becomes repetitive and tiring.
When Ruess succeeds on the project, he does it in part because of its wide array of instrumentation. Whether it's the string orchestra on almost every track, a group of horns at the end of "Grand Romantic," or some xylophone in "You Light My Fire," each song's composition is a refreshing difference from the pop standard.
These energetic compositions juxtaposed by serious lyrics can create multiple interpretations of one song, and that makes Ruess’ version of indie pop distinct. Grand Romantic could make one person sulk and another dance.
The vocals on each track highlight Ruess’ musical talents. His ability to express several feelings in quick succession, such as the switch from anger to sincerity to pleading on "AhHa," helps to create dynamic and entertaining songs. When he sings of sorrow, his voice sounds as though he's experiencing his pain all over again.
Ruess' influences played a major role on each of the album’s tracks. Each song attempts to match the theatrics of Queen while maintaining the sincerity of early Weezer. Usually, these efforts pan out, especially on "Nothing Without Love," which tells a story that builds to a worthy, dramatic conclusion.
Although his talent warrants this “boil over” style, Ruess goes for the knockout too often. His earlier records with The Format and fun. blended his punchy tracks with calmer, less exhausting ones. Grand Romantic doesn't settle for these necessary compromises, with songs such as "Take it Back" that don't match the expectations set by Ruess previous works.
Later tracks on the record feel a bit like déjà vu, solely because Reuss often reiterates these themes of loneliness and lust for love. By the eighth track, his style becomes irksome. A song or two with different thematic elements would help, but Ruess refuses to compromise and keeps going.
One full listen to this record is a tiring endeavor, and, by the last song, the lyrics feel whiny. Although each song is easy to get through and Ruess’ musical talents are impressive, the songs’ slight variations in themes get old after 40 minutes.
If anything, this project shows that contributions from other artists, such as fun. members Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, provide a needed tweak to Ruess’ songwriting that could have turned the album into one enjoyable experience rather than a collection of unvaried songs.
Album: Grand Romantic
Genre: Indie Pop