Album Review: Nate Ruess - Grand Romantic (2015 LP)

Has anyone checked whether Nate Ruess was a theatre kid? Every project he's involved with has been getting steadily more bombastic and theatrical since The Format. His solo album, Grand Romantic, is theatrical verging on ridiculous, but it's also weirdly charming. That might sum up everything Ruess does, actually.

If you're one of the (many) people, who liked Fun's break out sophomore album Some Nights, there's a good chance you'll like Grand Romantic. If you're one of the (equally many) people who would rather stick and drill through their face than hear 'We Are Young' again, you'll probably be equally annoyed by Grand Romantic. It's a similar sort of sound to that whole album – very excessive, rock opera style songs with a lot of throwback elements and slick production, although some of Grand Romantic is closer to what counts as stripped back for Ruess. 'What This World Is Coming To' features Beck, an acoustic guitar, and, for some reason, laser sound effects. It's a folk song meets the musical Rent. It's a weird blend, but there is a definite campfire sing-a-long vibe to it, and it's weird in a good way.

Ruess's music can be bafflingly over-dramatic, over-produced, and over-emotional, but when it works perfectly it's such a giant dramatic mess that it can't help but be charming and enjoyable. 'Great Big Storm' has a marching drum beat in the chorus and the song is either about a natural disaster or mental illness or the general concept of hope, and it sounds a little like Ruess is trying to rally an army with polyphonic theatre-pop. It's ridiculous, but it's also touching and catchy and it sounds like Ruess has poured himself into every single one of these very overwrought orchestral Broadway moments.

The album does misstep a lot - it gets annoying to be so overwrought - but even then there are strangely enjoyable moments. 'Grand Romantic' starts dull and meandering and slow, and then it builds into a whole different song – something that sounds like a Christmas carol complete with the organ and the choral singers. It's like the end of Love Actually meets the 2012 movie version of Les Mis, and completely unlike anything you expect to hear from the writer of one of the most popular songs of 2012.

Grand Romantic is choppy, dramatic, and strange. I don't always fully understand the choices Ruess makes as a song writer, but I appreciate every damn one of them. For a guy who was in a band called Fun, Ruess writes a lot of sad songs, but then he decorates them with fireworks and guitar solos and harmonies and weird, choppy musical choices (I think he uses a child's piano on 'Brightside). It fits together in songs that aren't always good, but are always interesting to hear at least once.

Grand Romantic ends with the sound of a music box winding down, complete with the metallic clicking. It's a weird choice for a weird album that also ties the whole thing together in such a weirdly sweet way. The album is the kind of thing that exists for perfectly detailed Christmas window displays and the meticulous hyper-colour of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. It's an odd album, not always a good one, but there's something cozy and sincere at the heart of it underneath all its stage make up.

Review Score: 6.9 out of 10

Grand Romantic is out now.