Nate Ruess - Grand Romantic (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nate Ruess

Grand Romantic (2015)

Fueled by Ramen / Atlantic

Grand Romantic is right. Nate Ruess’s first solo outing is exactly what you’d expect from someone of his pedigree who recently found love: giant, introspective arena pop.

Three years since the massive success of fun.’s Some Nights, Grand Romantic unfolds like the next logical step in Ruess’s career. It comes across like a companion and reaction to the success of that record. There’s “AhHa” which borrows a lyric from “Some Nights,” “It Only Gets Worse” which directly conflicts with fun.’s “It Gets Better” and “Harsh Light" which fun. was testing on the road before they took their hiatus. But now, Nate Ruess has nothing to prove. His band has achieved more in the last three years than most will over their entire careers. So what does he do? Craft more of the same while trying to sound bigger.

What I’ve always loved about Nate Ruess is his lyrics are approachable without being too full of convoluted metaphors. When he sings, “By the time I turned 25, I was lost among the pavement, lower than the basement and I couldn’t stand and smile,” it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. Depression and alcohol are always topics, but he crafts them into luscious melodies you can sing along to. “Brightside” in particular is a great representation of who Ruess is as a writer and performer. He puts you through the ringer emotionally, but always tries to end on a positive note. Also, he does it a little more grandiose than you're used to.

The fitting overproduction can be attributed to Jeff Bhasker, back with Ruess again because it ain’t broke. Since Some Nights, Bhasker has worked with everyone from Taylor Swift to Bruno Mars (and before that Kanye West and Beyonce, so…) His pop credibility shines brightly on Grand Romantic. There’s not a small statement to be heard here including guest spots from two of indie rock’s biggest stars, Beck and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. In theory a Nate/Beck duet should work -- two songwriters with an innate ability to craft songs for modern radio. But on “What This World is Coming To,” they both feel as if they’re straining to prove they can do it. Tweedy’s guitar solo fares better if only because it's rather forgettable.

But this is Ruess's show and his vocals are the highlight. He sings lyrics that by any other would come off as insincere or corny, but not from him. Hate him or love him, he believes every grand gesture. Good pop songs are ones you can’t get out of your head. Great pop songs play off the same property, but leave you with an urge to revisit and explore over and over. Although this isn't his best example, Grand Romantic is proof there are few artists in Ruess’s league who do it better than he does.