The in-demand pop producer gets an assist from Bruce Springsteen on his third album as Bleachers
Over the past decade, Jack Antonoff has quietly been at the heart of modern day indie pop.
Between his role in fun. (who scored two of the biggest hits of the 2010s), he also keeps busy doing production work for acts like Lorde, St. Vincent, and Lana Del Rey–St. Vincent’s Annie Clark returns the favor here, while Del Rey lends her harmonies to the track “Secret Life.” Since roughly 2014, he’s been front and center as the frontman and only official member of the alt-radio hitmaking force Bleachers.
Album: Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is just his third album as Bleachers in the eight years he’s gone under that name, and the care he puts into his records shows. It’s also a very short record, clocking in at 33 minutes, so it’s a credit that despite his penchant for showmanship and dramatics and neurotic oversharing that peppers his first two efforts for better or for worse, he’s a surprisingly solid self-editor.
VIDEO: Times Two “Strange But True”
A small disclaimer of sorts: that I still hold onto fond affection for forgotten, throwaway synth-pop singles from the late 1980s like “Strange But True” by Times Two or “Another Lover” by Giant Steps surely colors my review of an artist like Bleachers. Antonoff unabashedly embraces a pop sensibility. While Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night still betrays his love for the grandiose, orchestral, and clean, it does expose some rougher edges. At times, this album is closer to The National or Editors (remember them) with its overall darker turn.
“Stop Making This Hurt,” however, fits right in (as he often has on the Billboard charts) beside affable acts like Passion Pit, Walk The Moon, Saint Motel and Foster the People on the more appealing side of modern alternative radio. As with his hits like “I Wanna Get Better” and “Don’t Take The Money,” it may be a bit paint-by-numbers, but damned if its hooks don’t worm their way into your ear. It’s pure fun, (pun maaaybe intended) while also featuring his Morrissey-esque knack for blending dark neurotic sadness with a gleaming pop hook. It’s a successful affectation which also manifests itself in the album title.
VIDEO: Bleachers “Don’t Take The Money”
“Don’t Go Dark” blends peak ‘70s Springsteen rock and roll bells and whistles with ‘80s-era The Cure mumbling mope. It’s opening may be copped directly from the Modern English classic “I Melt with You,” but damned if it doesn’t work. Speaking of the Boss, Bleachers stands with other Garden State indie acts like Yo La Tengo and Titus Andronicus, fully identifying himself with his (and my) oft-mocked adopted home, frequently referencing New Jersey in his works.
Therefore, it’s not as shocking as it might at first seem when Springsteen himself pops up on “Chinatown.” The track sports a later, more reflective Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen polished brooding pop feel with similar lovelorn lines like “a girl like you could rip me out of my head.” Antonoff wisely doesn’t overdo the icon’s appearance, letting Springsteen’s unmistakable growl sneak in on the last chorus. It’s as if Antonoff’s hommage to one of his influences has conjured up said artist, and it works to a haunting effect.
Off the top of my head, he’s the third artist to title a single “45” over a decade after they were obsolete (at least under this name and not as a 7”). Both the Gaslight Anthem hit and the lesser known Saturday Knights songs are great tracks, btw. While tying the “old 45s spinnin’ out of time” metaphor to being drawn back by nostalgia’s comfort to a lover who may or may not be toxic might fly over half his audience’s head, the catchy acoustic song is one of the most honest moments on the album.
It bleeds seamlessly into the final two tracks of the album, both soft and somnambulistic. “Strange Behavior” dips into Iron & Wine/Mark Eitzel/Devendra Banhart territory with its churchmouse quiet echo-y somberness. “What’d I Do With All This Faith,” while more melodic, starts somehow even softer and sadder. It does build up to a lightly elegiac chorus, but that just means he kicks it up to, let’s say, a 3. It’s the death of a party, albeit a very short one. Try as hard as he might, he could not, indeed, take the sadness out of Saturday night.
That I’m not entirely sure it works or is earned does not take away the fact that Bleachers has achieved his third above-average pop record while growing, at least a little, as an artist. You may notice a lot of 1980s in the references, and this album does take some of the best aspects of that polarizing decade, as well as a few that are simply nostalgic.
Overall, it’s a worthwhile listen by one of the better mainstream minds working today. And on its best tracks, it soars to the hooky majesty which has made him one of the highlights of the last decade or so of alternative radio.