Bleachers Shakily Tries to Be the Boss on 'Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night'

BY Kyle KohnerPublished Jul 27, 2021

The trail of desire that leads to Jack Antonoff, writer and producer of some of the biggest pop albums released within the past decade, is a perplexing phenomenon to follow. Aside from being a songwriter unafraid to feel and express things loud and proud, what is it about Antonoff that makes him the most sought-after record producer alive? Is it ingenuity and a forward-thinking production style that constantly pushes the envelope? No, that's not Jack. Antonoff as a songwriter and producer is an agreeable safe bet who caters his own one-man-band talents to each and every artist he finds himself producing for.

Sure, his knack for an unstoppably catchy hook and boisterous, stadium-rocking arrangements will show itself now and then, but he's the ultimate collaborator who allows an individual's unique gifts and creativity to flow. In an interview with Billboard, Taylor Swift says it best when asked about what it's like working with the New Jersey producer: "There is a boundless enthusiasm in the way Jack makes music, and it's an absolutely irresistible quality to find in a collaborator." Whether that's devising a musically sparse atmosphere for Lana Del Rey's spontaneous poetry and wry humor, pushing Swift to embrace her directness, or endlessly refining a synth-drenched dance environment for a perfectionist like Lorde, Antonoff helps bring out the best in others, but to a degree deprived of any real signature that demands attention and acclaim.

That's not necessarily an indictment against Antonoff, who does what he loves and does it well — helping others realize their dreams and producing loud, infectious pop music that makes frequenters of Urban Outfitters say "This is a vibe." But because the level of demand surrounding his name suggests he's doing something exceptional and ground-breaking, it's only reasonable to hope and wait for him to deliver a record that validates its own hype; a project that could build a logical bridge between Antonoff the collaborator and Antonoff the musician.

Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, Antonoff's third album as Bleachers, is at best a heartfelt batch of tracks that are nice to experience in the moment, but rarely anytime after. This doesn't mean there aren't a few glimpses of the full potential of Bleachers' musical direction; they're just crowded by much of the same heard on records past. Blatant choruses and the aural impression of a 10-piece ensemble return as Bleachers' calling cards — Antonoff's latest, at worst, lacks stylistic risks. He continues to churn out a homogenized slew of soaring synth-pop simplicity that could easily be placed within the context of any prior Bleachers' project, but this time filtered through the lens of his childhood heroes — particularly one Mr. Bruce Springsteen.

Similar to Springsteen's adored 1984 album Born in the U.S.A., Antonoff's Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is full of big leaping choruses that'll shake arenas, vocals that yearn through a haze of reverb, and guitars that swoon with heartland spirit. Not that this is anything new for Antonoff — Springsteen's influence was present as early as 2014's "Rollercoaster." The genre-specific sonics are admirably by-the-book on Take the Sadness, but Born in the U.S.A.'s boisterous snares and synth-ladened sonics throughout were really just there to draw the attention of the masses — the album's dark socio-political underbelly is what made it so essential. Springsteen made a danceable record and said something important along the way; a balance of contrasts carried with command. The same can't be said for Take the Sadness cuts like "Chinatown" and "45," where Antonoff merely fashions this aesthetic around vague sentiments about himself, his life, and a breakup with his famous ex, rather than the toiling world-at-large.
When not channelling Springsteen, Antonoff fills the gaps with driving, fast-tempo indie pop, such as the Vampire Weekend-esque "How Dare You Want More," which incorporates an upbeat jolt of jaunty acoustic guitars, rolling drums, and lively saxophone licks. It still falls in line with Antonoff's euphoric sound, complete with endlessly shoutable chorus.

The album does, however, feature a few examples of what makes Antonoff's songwriting so special. Album opener "91" throws a curveball from the get-go by experimenting with baroque pop arrangements, as do the final two tracks "Strange Behavior" and "What'd I Do With All This Faith." None of these three songs crescendo into a big cathartic explosion and there's no sight of overproduced nostalgia. Instead, intimate singer-songwriter qualities, gorgeous horn sections and twinkly string staccatos culminate into a more intimate approach than the anthemic surroundings of the album's remainder.

Hearing Antonoff's voice boosted by delicate instrumental subtleties and unhindered by layers of reverb, may very well be the most refreshing development from Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. He comes across as a complex individual with complex emotions. "Strange Behavior" paints Antonoff as an intense poet, pining for meaning during a chaotic time: "This just a shadow / What you thought was faith / That was hollow / Look at you / You've been chasing shadows / That's why you wake up in two." Moments like these, whether they be musical or lyrical, may very well be just enough to justify that "it" factor that continues to charm the biggest names in pop music, even if it doesn't fully translate across the whole album.

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