Review Summary: A mild letdown from one of indie-pop's most promising stars.
Jack Antonoff’s solo project Bleachers took the world by storm in 2014. The Fun. guitarist crafted one of the best pop albums of the decade in an anthem-bound blast
of summer that was simultaneously bombastic and intimate, as it tapped into the vein of what was trending without sacrificing an ounce of personality. To say that Strange Desire
saved mainstream pop that year (perhaps along with 1989
– which Jack coincidentally helped produce) isn’t a far stretch, and it placed Bleachers among the most well-known names in music after just one record. Since then, Antonoff has continued developing his skills, most recently working as co-producer for Lorde’s upcoming album Melodrama
, whose singles have been met with critical acclaim thus far. In short, there’s no denying that Antonoff has a knack for this whole music thing. Unfortunately, it’s also what makes the flatness of his sophomore follow-up, Gone Now
, is so unwaveringly disappointing.
Antonoff could have taken Gone Now
in a lot of different directions: stay the course and make millions, chase the subtler indie undertones towards something more meaningful, or go all-out for radio success. Thankfully he didn’t pursue the latter, but his decision ended up being something of a muddled compromise between the first two options, and Gone Now
satisfies neither camp. Lead single ‘Don’t Take the Money’ is a prime example of him staying the course, concocting a sort of first-day-of-summer-joyride aura with lyrics like you steal the air out of my lungs, you make me feel it
along with an irresistible beat and backing vocals from Lorde herself. Honestly, nobody would have complained if he’d steered the entire record that direction, but you also have to admire him for not “taking the money”, or following the easy, predictable path. The problem is that in his calculated departure efforts, he comes up emptyhanded too many times while still trying to cling to the past.
’s highlights are clearly defined because there’s a pretty wide disparity between them and the tracks that comprise “the rest.” Songs like the piano-driven ‘Goodmorning’ are irresistibly upbeat and sprightly, winding through several tempo changes and throwing in addicting little hooks along the way (such as the choral ahhs
in the background). If the record had opted more often for a quirkily eclectic direction such as this, it would probably have counterbalanced any lost momentum. ‘Hate That You Know Me’ offers up the most memorable chorus and, along with the aforementioned ‘Don’t Take the Money’, rides the ripples from Strange Desire
’s splash – keeping intact most of the echoing, indie-meets-pop stylings of that debut. To a lesser extent, the celebratory bells and whistles of late album find ‘I Miss Those Days’ pack the energy that much of Gone Now
is missing into three and a half minutes of youthful bliss. While the ‘Mickey Mantle’ intro and reprise also land among the record’s pros, there’s ultimately a steep drop off aside from these pinnacles outlined here.
It’s not so much that Gone Now
should have been perfect from start to end, as even Strange Desire
had its inconsistencies – it’s more about the supporting tracks. The debut was littered with beautiful gems, such as the National-reminiscent ‘Reckless Love’, the irresistibly romantic ballad ‘Wake Me’, and the life-affirming ‘Like A River Runs.’ With our sophomore effort here, it feels like all or nothing. One would be hard-pressed to capture the same emotion from ‘Nothing is U’ as he or she did from ‘Wake Me’, which it is clearly trying to emulate. The entirely auto-tuned ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Foreign Girls’ feel like Antonoff taking a stab at making something Kanye-inspired, or perhaps just his answer to Fun.’s ‘Stars’, but they pale in comparison to either. The tracks that aren’t entirely ill-advised are often just offensively bland, like the run-of-the-mill indie-pop exercise of ‘Let’s Get Married’, which sounds like something that Brandon Flowers would have tacked onto a Killers record as a b-side. There’s simply not enough creativity to justify half of this album existing, and if that’s the case Antonoff might have been better served just blasting out a handful of upbeat warm-weather jams to fill this out instead of noodling around with various studio effects. Those sorts of efforts can only be appreciated when they result in the occasional diamond-in-the-rough; Gone Now
is devoid of such moments.
All in all, Gone Now
isn’t likely to alienate many fans with its averageness. There’s enough borderline hits present to keep Bleachers relevant, even if none of them aspire to the same heights as the project’s debut which – in all fairness – is a very tough act to follow. Jack Antonoff is a brilliant songwriter and producer, so there’s little doubt that he will rebound in a much needed way with his third record. For the foreseeable future though, we have Gone Now
, which alternates in black-and-white fashion between intriguing and utterly flavorless. It will find its niche on certain playlists this summer, but in the shadow of Strange Desire
and Antonoff’s burgeoning reputation, Gone Now
goes into the books as a mild letdown.