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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Hip pop is, er, fun

There are some bands and albums that you think you’ll like even before you hear them. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: May 26, 2012 02:22 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times



Fueled By Ramen, Rs 395

Rating: ***


Jason Mraz

Atlantic, Rs 395

Rating: *

There are some bands and albums that you think you’ll like even before you hear them. Once you listen to them, you’ll either be disappointed or have a happy confirmation. With Fun. (don’t ask me the ‘concept’ behind the full stop after the band name), I came with no expectations or preconceived notions. And I left their second album Some Nights feeling enriched with a new experience — not unlike when I once attended a stoner gathering where I couldn’t for the life of me figure out whether everyone there was gay or not.

Which isn’t something I wouldn’t have reckoned when I heard the opening track, ‘Some nights intro’. This was bad from whichever angle I listened to it. Was I listening to a Broadway musical about which Time magazine has been raving about? The stagelight music certainly would make me think so. But instead of taking the CD out at that rather early juncture and tossing it in the bin, I continued. The title track wasn’t much different. Frontman Nate Ruess’s vocals, with a Soweto Youth Choir-kind of chorus rousing him on and some chubby percussion-pounding, could have again been an Elton John reject from his Lion King repertoire.
And then there’s a quiet shift in ‘We are young’. The band’s website had told me about the big influence of Kanye West’s music on this New York three white boys band. But it’s on this track that you find the giant footprints of master hip-hop producer Jeff Bhasker (who has shaped the sounds of biggies including Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Jay Z and Beyonce) start its long and deep trail through the album. The track starts peppily enough, with Ruess sounding uncannily like Don McLean... until the drum-beats drop to a swampy, piano chords-driven chorus. By the time we’re halfway into the song, the lines “Tonight/ we are young/ so let’s set the world on fire” are throbbing with loud colours.

‘Carry on’ is deceptively low key, before progressing into a hip-pop St Patrick’s Day bar song. The Paddy O’Brien chorus with the accordion is NYC Irish via some phat sample beats ending with, um, a Brian May-style guitar solo. Then comes the poppy-punker ditty ‘It gets better’ that’s less derived from Fun.’s love for hip-hop and more from early listens to Weezer songs. The skidding drum samples leave scratch marks behind. ‘Why am I the one’ could be a wringer from the Bee Gees archives giftwrapped for a particularly let’s-slap-those-harmonising-wimps-at-the-back episode of Glee. The punch and the skip is back in ‘All alone’, but not without making me think for a full minute whether or not Take That wrote this song for their reunion concert. ‘All right’ returns us to the hip-hop zone and saves the CD from becoming a novelty album.

For all its gubble-bum pop-ness (essentially bubble-gum pop that’s supposed to actually be cooler), this album is interesting as it jumps all over the place like a wall lizard on speed. Take the grandness in ‘One foot’. With the superheavy gravity of the horn section pushing down like the trumpet blasts of bouncer-angels outside a club called Heaven, Ruess lets rip his Eminem-side as he shouts-sings, “I’ll put one foot/ in front of the other one/ I don’t need a new love, or a new life/ just a better place to die.” It’s teenage street bravado. But it is rousing semi-anthemic bravado that works.

I’m sure Fun.’s videos are much more arresting than the album. Meanwhile, for all the newness of Some Nights and its reaching No. 3 on the charts et al, I’m Done. with Fun.


Beach party music, anyone? Well, the songs on this CD aren’t as smile-inducingly silly as Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. But certainly if you want some of that old dancefloor music to chuddlewup to, then Jason Mraz is your man and his fourth album, Love is a Four Letter Word, is your getaway van. Yes, the music is that corny.

The seemingly unending ‘The freedom song’ sounds like a George Michael creation minus all the inappropriate fun. ‘Living in the moment’ that follows is syrupy rotten as it can’t even be danced to for real (swaying doesn’t count). But Mraz gets a level higher in ‘The woman I love’, a pretend country song which should open at the annual Girls Scoutzapalooza. He plucks a few more strings than necessary in ‘I won’t give up’. For those too young to know or care of the existence of a flaxen haired Canadian called Bryan Adams, I guess this song may help more than I can ever imagine or fear. I can go on and on about this monumentally cheesy, torturously melodic album. But do you really want me to?

First Published: May 26, 2012 00:54 IST

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