Does the nostalgic, Springsteen inspired third album from producer Jack Antonoff's solo project match up to the brilliance of preview single 'Chinatown'?
Last November, Jack Antonoff promised to "take the sadness right out of Saturday night" in his new single 'Chinatown', an excellent track that featured a guest appearance from the one and only Bruce Springsteen. Soon after hearing said song it quickly became one of my favourite songs of 2020!
With its 80s Springsteen vibes (of course), dreamy, lo-fi vocals and upbeat melody, I found myself vibing to the song over and over again, obsessively playing it on repeat and unashamedly belting out the chest-pumping "Cause I wanna find tomorrow / Yeah, I wanna find tomorrow" chorus hook. Nine months later, he's now released his third album.
But first, for those who aren't already aware of who he is, Bleachers is an indie-pop project of songwriter and producer Jack Antonoff. He's a man who has been just about everywhere in the music industry over the past couple of years and the name behind many of the biggest pop records.
The 37-year-old New Jersey native drummed and played guitar in the Grammy-winning band Fun from 2008 to 2012 (known for massive-hit 'We Are Young'), before turning his hand to producing. Over the years he's worked with some of the pop world's biggest names, co-producing tracks on both 1989 and folklore for Taylor Swift, Lorde's 2017 album Melodrama and Lana Del Rey's sixth record (and most critically acclaimed) Norman F***ing Rockwell!
In 2014, Jack Antonoff announced his new solo project Bleachers. It was a project said to be inspired by John Hughes movies and a time in his 80s childhood "when big songs were great songs", seeking to create "massive, beautiful pop songs that sound f***in' cool."
He announced the release of his third album last November, releasing two new songs; 'Chinatown' and '45'. And here we are, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night eventually dropping on 30 July on RCA Records. For the most part, the mission statement holds true, but I'd be lying if I said it was an easy listen from start to finish. Lets look a little deeper.
Opener '91' acts as a fantastic opener for 'Chinatown', the strings carrying a heartfelt song that has Jack Antonoff exploring the emotional turmoil of his childhood.
Before you know it, 'Chinatown' has rolled into play (did I mention how much I like this song?). The vocals of Bruce Springsteen halfway through provide a euphoria to add to the nostalgic joy and melancholy. Even 9 months after first hearing it, you're still left with that yearning to hit repeat again and hum along to the synth hook.
'How Dare You Want More' isn't exactly a million miles away from the latter, another delicious indie-pop track with a classic rock feel. The competing saxophone and guitar solos bring an extra level of character and sass. It may have a copycat E Street Band feel to it, but, again we'll forgive him for providing us with such a fun-filled track.
Explaining the track to Apple Music,
“How Dare You Want More” is this feeling I was seeing with friends and family. Everyone’s going through this big struggle to have more, to ask for more, and to be in control of their life. I saw it was producing so much shame in other people, and therefore, really just myself. Why is it so hard? "
'Big Life' is, again, right out of the Born in the USA-era Springsteen textbook, both lyrically and the sound of the 80s inspired production. Another thoroughly enjoyable number. It's at this point, however, that the cracks start to show.
Fifth track 'Secret Life' features Lana Del Rey, though, in all honesty, blink and you'll miss the collaboration. Having been excited to see her name pop up after the success of her stripped-back new album Chemtrails Over the Country Club, this song simply falls flat. Lana's barely given a voice and thoroughly kept at bay in the background. How disappointing and you can't help but mourn this as a wasted opportunity.
'Stop Making This Hurt' was the long-awaited second single after 'Chinatown'. Without hitting the heights of the former, it's another radio-friendly, seemingly cheery song that references family tragedy and depression. The chorus to 'Don't Go Dark' is another singalong treat ('Cause you run, run, run / Run with the wild / Then you cry on my shoulder like a little child'). It's hopeful, euphoric, nostalgic and sad all in one go; a winning formula Jack Antonoff masters well, if unspectacularly, for the most part on this record.
What is a pleasantly enjoyable 33-minute record throughout - without exactly blowing you away throughout - finishes awkwardly. 'Strange Behaviour' feels too much of a contrived nod to The National, with Jack Antonoff's vocal delivery bearing more than a slight resemblance to Matt Berninger. It just feels too forced. Similarly, 'What'd I Do With All This Faith' has little impact for the same reasons. What was a fun record to this point, departs on a disappointing anticlimax and you're left questioning how much you enjoyed it in the first place. Isn't the point of a 33-minute record to leave you wanting more?!
It was clear from the first listen that this was going to be a record to divide listeners. The high point of the album is clearly 'Chinatown', and the nostalgic formula he's replicated on a range of different tracks works well throughout. However, you're also left with that lingering feeling that this isn't exactly the most original or complex of records and it's a sound that can wear thin the more you listen.
When he does attempt to stray away from the obvious Springsteen influence, just as you're about to applaud him, you then wish he'd quickly turn back to the familiar sound. For what is on offer on the stripped back, acoustic tracks is a banalness that leaves little impression.
An enjoyable, if unconvincing effort from Jack Antonoff who never reaches the heights of second track 'Chinatown'. However, the presence of that addictive number ensures you're likely to give him an ever so slight benefit of the doubt.
Rating - 6.5/10