Review Summary: Baby we were born to run (out of ideas). Despite the blatant Springsteen worship, Antonoff still manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat.
Jack Antonoff is one of the most recognized figures in mainstream music today. He was the man behind the scenes on instant pop classics like Taylor Swift's 1989
, Lorde's Melodrama
, and Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell!
, and his solo debut under the Bleachers moniker, Strange Desire
, remains a stalwart of indie summer playlists. As influential as he's been over the last decade, his style has also begun to wear thin among many of his own listeners. The most recent instance was the trending accusation that Lorde's single 'Stoned at the Nail Salon' sounds almost exactly like Lana Del Rey's 'Wild at Heart'; Antonoff produced both. Those who've heard Clairo's latest LP Sling
can also attest to the sonic overlap between its songs and the atmosphere on many other Antonoff collaborations. Eventually, it all starts to blur together. Even if Antonoff is something of a one-trick pony, then it's a glorious trick because it took roughly seven years for us to tire of it. Some of us still aren't feeling any fatigue, which is a sign of just how strong Antonoff's brand is.
Trek back with me to 2017 for a moment: it was a great year for Jack, as he helped guide Melodrama
to its soaring levels of success, and he also had his hand in St. Vincent's Masseduction
on fan-favorite tracks like 'New York' and 'Happy Birthday Johnny'. While he was enjoying the fruits of collaborating with such skilled artists, his own musical career suffered a little bit of a stumble. He released Gone Now
, which while boasting all the same bells and whistles as 2014's Strange Desire
, was basically a zero-calorie version of it. The anthems weren't as invigorating, the ballads were less compelling, and the melodies not quite as memorable. It appears to have been a lesson learned for Jack, as four years later we see him doing something very un-Antonoff
like: flipping the script entirely. On Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
, he dials down the theatrics, dials up the vintage rock, and leans into his best Bruce Springsteen impression. Surprisingly, it's not nearly as bad as you might think.
On the surface, yes
- it sounds like a disaster in the making. After all, we already have better modern Springsteens who are both more exciting and less of a carbon-copy (take Gang of Youths for instance). Also, the idea that Antonoff seems to be trying something new without actually trying something new
seems like it should denote a frustrating transition in his solo career. But for what Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
lacks in originality, it makes up for in craft. Here, the songwriting is much tighter than on Gone Now
, and the album is far more consistent as a result. There are no tracks that boom with the anthemic qualities of 'Don't Take the Money', but it also never really falls off the way Gone Now
did with extended pockets of boredom like 'All My Heroes', 'Goodbye' and 'Nothing is U'. Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
remains true to its mission statement of intricate and melodic slow rock, and at a breezy thirty-four minutes, it never has the chance to stagnate. While this record's predecessor was the definition of a mixed bag, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
is markedly reliable - a product that you're likely to either take or leave in its entirety.
If Gone Now
had morning vibes and Strange Desire
was a euphoric rush of summer sun, then Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
is the comedown after. It's like watching a live band play an outdoor concert as the sun fades behind the trees, offering encores beneath a star-lit sky. Part of that is because Antonoff trades in his usual glitzy synth-pop for sax-tinged rock 'n' roll surrounded by a full band. There are noticeable instrumental improvements all across the experience, from guitars which are higher in the mix to raw and lively drumming. Vocally, Antonoff (plus any collaborators) sound as if they're huddled around the microphone singing in unison. This entire album feels like it's happening right in front of you, and considering that most of us have gone years without attending any live shows, it's a welcome transformation of Bleachers' aesthetic.
Another reason that Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
feels so personal is because of the lyrics. The content here is ponderous and awestruck, revolving around love/relationships and even infidelity. The string-swept '91' feels like locking eyes with someone across the room, and there's a tension stemming from the pursuit of something (or someone) that would turn you into somebody you aren't: "I know what I'm not...Just like you, I can't leave." On the acoustic ballad 'Secret Life', Jack sings atop stuttering drums "Out of my head I'm beggin' for skin to skin / You don't say much 'cause you've been cheated before me"..."I just want a secret life / Where you and I can get bored out of our minds." Lana Del Rey's voice crests over the second verse and chorus, awash in reverb like a hazy dream. By the arrival of 'Stop Making This Hurt', he seems to want nothing more to do with all this temptation: "Stop making this hurt / and say goodbye like you mean it." These are all loose interpretations that bear no reflection on Antonoff of course - most of the lyrics are told from a perspective (as if in a story), while other lines are entirely metaphorical. Regardless, it's all a step up conceptually from fun but admittedly vapid choruses like "Rollercoaster, I don't say no / Rollercoaster, when you don't say no / And it's such a rollercoaster!" The contrast between that and the moment here when Jack sings, "But if we take the sadness out of Saturday night, I wonder what we’ll be left with / Anything worth the fight?" is palpable.
All of this makes for a very intimate third LP for Bleachers. Whereas Strange Desire
and Gone Now
felt sleek, modern, and explosive, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
is meek, antiquated, and introspective. The inherent drawback is that this record fails to reach the epic heights which delivered Bleachers into the limelight in the first place. However, this piece flows better and possesses a more unified air. It's a trade-off that will favor listens in thoughtful isolation over action-packed road trips. Some may be disappointed by this fact - especially considering that Bleachers is basically synonymous with summer fun - but since we already have albums like Strange Desire
in our back pocket, it's nice to see a different side of this project. Furthermore, dragging out Antonoff's standard approach for a third time would have only seen the diminished returns of Gone Now
continue. Springsteen worship may not be the long-term cure for what many are coining "Antonoff fatigue", but in the meantime, it's a nice novelty item and a pleasant little distraction.