Saturday, July 04, 2015

Grand Romantic - the ballads of Nate Ruess

album review

Singer: Nate Ruess
Album: Grand Romantic

Nate Ruess’s rise to pop stardom may have seemed sudden, but his success has been anything but overnight. Before he gained global recognition, the singer spent over a decade paying his dues in the music scene, first with indie darlings The Format and then with pop group Fun, whose slick, commercial tunes finally made him a mainstream sensation. But instead of building on the momentum by recording the follow-up to their sophomore record Some Nights (2012), the group members have chosen to capitalize on the success individually by pursuing separate projects, with Ruess releasing an album under his own name.

Grand Romantic, the vocalist’s debut solo venture, finds the singer going for a vibe that doesn’t stray too far from the melodramatic sound of Fun but ends up being significantly less, well, fun. What’s missing are the catchy hooks and exciting variations, which seem to have been replaced by a sense of complacency on this Jeff Bhasker-produced set.

A choral intro commences the proceedings (and later resurfaces at the end of the title track ‘Grand Romantic’ in the second half of the album), leading to the single ‘AhHa’ which gives a nod to Fun’s ‘Some Nights’ and could have been catchy if its instantly grating titular chant wasn’t so cloying. Aside from a few select tracks – like the standout ‘Great Big Storm’ which would fit comfortably on a fun. album, and the lively ‘You Light My Fire’ – the record is overpopulated with (mostly sleepy) ballads; some of them – like ‘Brightside’ and the terrific ‘What This World Is Coming To’,  a melodic duet with Beck which is perhaps the best song on the album, albeit also the one that is the least at home on this set – work well, while the others are initially hard to tell apart and subsequently hard to care about.

There are moments on Grand Romantic where Ruess’s vocals seem shrill, and the screech and whine in his delivery betrays the fact that the singer isn’t as aware of his voice and vocal limitations as you would expect, especially for someone with a decade of experience in the industry. Artistically too, the album doesn’t hold a candle to his previous output. The textures that made The Format’s music so interesting have been eroded because of transparent commercial ambition and overproduction, and the spark that made Fun enjoyable isn’t as palpable in these songs.

Overall, Grand Romantic comes across as affectedly grandiloquent instead of grand, offering a surface take on love and heartbreak without trying to do anything different or interesting. There isn’t much that is exciting about this material, which is why the record feels like a step down from Fun. You can’t help but miss guitarist Jack Antonoff (who is faring significantly better with his side project Bleachers) and keyboardist Andrew Dost’s presence on this set, because while there are a few good tunes on the album, they don’t make up for the fact that the outing as a whole isn’t as inspired or memorable as it should be.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 4th July, 2015 *

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