Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants! Have we got a different one today, folks.
If the charts are anything to go by, we’ve been in a really weird place this year. Not only have we switched number ones every two weeks, but aside from being really bitter in February and March, there’s no real consistency. We’re also breaking away from the trends of previous years. This time last year, we were in the middle of the “Born This Way” occupation, and the year before that, “I’mma Be” took the top spot. Who is it now? Fun., of all things.
Thanks to a friend of mine, I’d heard of fun. before they were co–I mean, before “We Are Young” became a thing. And they were, for lack of a better word, fun. Nate Ruess sings like a less twee version of Belle and Sebastian‘s Stuart Murdoch, and the music took a number of delightful left turns. I could see the schtick getting old fast, but it was enjoyable in song-sized doses. So let’s take a listen to “We Are Young”.
The song starts off with some thumping tom-tom work and sparse piano over Ruess’ bookish but likable vocals. It feels restrained, but engaging enough to keep the interest going. With some wry wit (“My friends are in the bathroom/Getting higher than the Empire State”), a few ribs at himself (“The holes in my apologies”), and trying to relate to others (“And I know I gave it to you months ago/I know you’re trying to forget”), the lyrics epitomize indie pop rather well. Overall, it’s all very deft and nimble, like fun’s previous output.
Then it veers hard into a slow and lurching chorus. I know that I just gave the band credit for their zippy transitions in songs, but the jump in “We Are Young” doesn’t feel natural. And considering that the next three and a half minutes of the song are essentially the chorus or some variation repeated over and over, the clumsy transition never gets to make sense. The zig-zags in other fun songs that I heard were numerous; after spending 20 to 40 seconds in one area, things would change, then change again in a minute or so.
Anyway, “We Are Young”‘s lumbering chorus pulls out all the stops for anthemic. The drums slow down and hit harder, there’s some guitar/synth chords in the background pushing the whole thing forward, and Ruess becomes a one man multi-tracked choir on levels not seen since Queen. Dude’s got some strong pipes, but the mix feels too overstuffed to really work.
And nothing demonstrates that better than the criminal misuse of Janelle Monae on this song. Between the glossy production on her voice, the choir she duels with, and the incessant beat, it wasn’t until I watched the video for a visual that I even knew where her part started and ended. Her involvement feels more like a marketing ploy than actual contribution, too; all she does is sing a few bars of “carry me home tonight” that doesn’t get to really add to the song. It’s like calling Patrick Stuart in to play a waiter that brings coffee to a secondary character once, then giving him top billing.
Don’t get me wrong, “We Are Young” has a pretty solid hook, but unfortunately uses it wrong. The chorus is only really effective the first time because it had a chance to build and release. The other times, there’s no dynamics to it, and it just comes out overblown. The song’s pretty gripping for the first minute and a half, but becomes background music past the two minute mark because there’s never any change; going from loud to loud doesn’t satisfy the way that soft to loud or loud to louder does.
I’d analyze the lyrics, but big ol’ heartfelt “We Are Young” basically boils down to “Fuck yeah, adolescent idealism” via the bluntest way possible. Smarmier fun songs with titles like “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)” might have made eyes roll, but at least they said something thoughtful.
I don’t dislike the song, but I feel like if you scaled “We Are Young” back, it could actually be bigger and better. If you filled in the lyrics and thinned out the production, it could be pretty solid. But, as it stands, the intro feels jilted, and the rest of the song wears out its welcome fast. It may be fun, but it isn’t going to make anyone wake up.
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