Nate Ruess • Grand Romantic • Fueled By Ramen • US Release Date: June 16, 2015
Let’s cut right to the chase. Nate Ruess has one of music’s most distinct voices, like ever. Ruess’ voice can be described as high-pitched and powerful, due to it ‘cutting’ ability. His voice and arguably his style isn’t for everybody, but on his solo venture away from Grammy-winning alternative-pop band Fun, Ruess does a nice job of using his instrument to the best of his abilities. Grand Romantic ends up being a captivating, sound affair, though not without flaws and not without Ruess indulgently digging in too much.
After a brief interlude, Grand Romantic kicks off in grand fashion with the biting “AhHa” which features a pummeling drum groove and Ruess simply ‘on fire.’ Despite being razor sharp through the majority of the song, Ruess’ vulnerability shows and shines on the bridge, where he speaks upon a dark period in his lice (“I thought of taking my own life / but mama don’t cry / I found songs among the tragic”). Manic and ambitious, “AhHa” wins the listener’s attention by all means.
“AhHa” is followed with another superb record in “Nothing Without Love.” “Nothing Without Love” exemplifies the notion of being “grandly romantic.” Ruess’ distinct pipes soar convincingly as he speaks so highly of romance, something many take for granted. “Take It Back” follows, exhibiting more soulfulness than the previous cuts. The soul is courtesy of the music itself (Emile Haynie and Jeff Tweedy’s guitar solo), as Ruess shows more poise, save for the powerful ending where he shows enhanced emotion and power.
“You Light My Fire” has a heavy 80s influence, particularly the underlying groove. It’s energetic and more optimistic than preceding cut, “Take It Back.” Things slacken on exceptional follow up “What This World Is Coming To,” featuring alternative vet Beck. The standout features magnificent vocal chemistry between both artists, who have distinctly different voices. Sure, Ruess overpowers Beck naturally with his upper register, powerful pipes, but having that extra punch underneath Ruess is great. Beck also contributes his guitar goodness – another definite win.
“Great Big Storm” is in your face from the jump – definitely catching one’s ear. Despite it’s assertiveness, there is more poise on the verses, contrasting the bombastic chorus. On “Moment” Ruess digs in, belting to the top of his lungs: “Because I’m fine / I just need a moment / I’m alright right here on the floor…I just need a moment to cry.” Dramatic? – Definitely.
“It Only Gets Much Worse” signifies a darker record, confirmed by the first verse: “I was born before the storm / my mother placed a dozen thorns / the ‘sorry’s’ and the ‘take it back’s’ / lay silent in her folded hands.” Deep might be an understatement. It grows even deeper on the second verse: “But years of this and used to it / I stepped out for some cigarettes / the neon lights they called me in / her eyes like your just different enough.” Essentially, Nate messed up a truly great relationship, and he feels the depth of the pain – the hurt is persistent and worsening.
Title track Grand Romantic” is the least conventional track on the album. It is self-indulgent and somewhat off-kilter, which might be the reason it is interesting. It’s not the set’s most profound moment, particularly lyrically, but it easily distinguishes itself from previous cuts. The orchestral arrangement is nothing short of breathtaking and arguably the best portion.
Following the sound, not necessarily remarkable “Harsh Light,” “Brightside” concludes Grand Romantic beautifully. Ruess dreamily sings, “I wish that I was on the bright side / these friends of mine could spend the whole night dreaming / while you’re holding me tight under the moonlight / just you and me babe we’ll spend our whole lives singing / La la la.” An orchestra only enhances the romance, not to mention the general lushness of the production.
Overall, Grand Romantic is a sound debut from Ruess. He manages to stay within the theme (romance) throughout the album, and does so with magnificent backdrops behind him. Some other critics have made the point to criticize the sense of “style over substance” on this album, and at times, they do have a point. That said there is plenty to like and songs like “It Only Gets Much Worse” indeed shows more lyrical range than some. Imperfect maybe but respectable, there’s plenty of pros to take away from Grand Romantic.
Favorites: “AhHa,” “Nothing Without Love,” “What This World Is Coming To,” “It Only Gets Much Worse,” “Brightside”