Okay admittedly this release isn’t *brand* new. It came out in December and got lost in the shuffle of Christmas. Also, being an iTunes exclusive, a lot of exclusive mp3 releases never really get reviewed. In this case there needs to be an exception. iTunes likes to release EPs of artists from time to time, either live at an Itunes festival concert held yearly, or a special recording session. Fun.’s entry is the latter.
The EP consists of 7 tracks, all performed in a stripped down fashion at Capitol studios in Los Angeles. However, unlike the versions done in early 2012 for a YouTube video set, the two repeated songs have grown and changed a bit, and this time there are backing vocalists and a string section. Starting the set off is the current hit “Carry On”. The song starts with just voice and piano, emphasizing the deep lyrics in this one. The addition of strings and touring band make this quite a change from the usual. For all of the extraordinary production on their albums, when Fun. is stripped down they are every bit as effective. Second up is one of the most powerful tracks from their debut Aim and Ignite, called “The Gambler”. The song is a story from the eyes of Nate Ruess’s father about the various stages of his life with Nate’s mother. The song is quite touching and usually leaves me teary eyed. Other than being only slightly more bare than the album version, and having a nice acoustic guitar solo in the middle, this has every bit of power if not more than the original version.
Next is “Some Nights”, now in megahit status. The song gets new life with bongos, piano, and full backing vocals making it sound like a big happy living room singalong. “We Are Young” follows. I have to give the band credit, as they keep finding ways to slightly alter the song to not get bored with it. This one gets full string and piano treatment when the chorus kicks in, giving it a different angle than it had before. Then with the big hits out of the way the real fun starts…
Fun. decides at this point to do a cover version of Van Morrison’s “Queen of the Slipstream”. While I am not familiar with the original, Nate does a good job of filtering Van’s famous delivery through his own and giving it his own power. The song sounds like a good fit for them, especially in this stripped down context. After this is where my ears perk up, as the band decides to pull off a stripped down version of the electronic effect-drenched album finale “Stars”. Hearing it stripped of the vocoder/auto-tune effects make it feel like an entirely different song. Instead we get the same gorgeous lyrics drenched in delicate piano, acoustic guitar and strings. While the original is a love it or hate it track for Fun. fans (I love it myself), this gives a different way to hear it.
Last of all is one of my favorite tracks here, “It Gets Better”. On the Some Nights album, this is the one track that is quite jarring and feels to me like way too much is going on in the mix to appreciate the song. Here the same song is placed against only a piano and a guitar, highlighting the great lyrics and Nate’s powerful voice. I actually prefer this version.
I definitely have to recommend this one to anyone that is even slightly beyond being a passive fan. While some unplugged style sessions drain the life out of some pop groups, the substance that lies underneath the production is given a chance to be heard in its raw glory.
Check out a trailer with some video and audio from the session: