With Bleachers’ debut Strange Desire, Grammy Award-winner Jack Antonoff capitalized on the ’80s nostalgia pop market he helped cultivate through his work with his band fun. and his collaborations with singers such as Taylor Swift and Sia. The album featured an abundance of synthesizers and anthemic choruses whose musical influence ranged from Modern English to Bruce Springsteen. Over this pop mélange, Antonoff meditated on anxiety, depression and loss, connecting a nostalgic grandeur with an emotional candor.
Although some critics deemed it a catalogue of ostentatious therapy pop, Strange Desire bolstered its position in the contemporary pop scene by juxtaposing an indie sincerity about vulnerability with the synthetic textures of a different generation. In fact, the album is a readymade soundtrack for a Netflix-era John Hughes remake.
In 2015, Antonoff released Terrible Thrills Vol. 2, a collection of remakes of Strange Desire. Like Ryan Adams’ gender-flipping cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989, Terrible Thrills re-imagined Bleachers’ debut with female vocalists. To provide different expressions and perspectives on his songs, Antonoff enlisted his frequent collaborators such as Sara Bareilles, Charlie XCX, and Tegan and Sara to great success.
All this to say that because Antonoff has become one of the most sought after pop auteurs in the industry today, Bleachers’ sophomore effort, Gone Now, is stacked with high expectations. And for the most part, Antonoff delivers.
Gone Now shares the ’80s enthusiasm and sincere sentimentalism of its predecessor. There are glitzy larger-than-life choruses. There are introspective swells of vulnerability. There are songs that make you want to dance and cry at the same time. However, for every two steps forward that Antonoff takes from Strange Desire, he also takes one backward because his over-the-top flair occasionally sacrifices the actual music.
Album opener “Dream of Mickey Mantle” places its listener in familiar territory for any Springsteen fan, a soundscape complete with “rolling thunder”. In “Dream”—more of an overture than a complete song—Antonoff gestures self-reflexively toward the past that has shaped him as well as proleptically toward the album about to unfold: “All the hope I had when I was young/I hope I wasn’t wrong/I miss those days so I sing a ‘Don’t Take the Money’ song.”
That “‘Don’t Take the Money’ song” is the fourth track and the first single released for the album. It’s also the album’s best. It is a model for Antonoff’s musical approach, combining an infinitely re-playable arena-pop with an emotional gush. With a soaring, synth-laden chorus, he delivers sentimentality with unrivalled charisma: “You steal the air out of my lungs, you make me feel it/I pray for everything we’ve lost, buy back the secrets/Your hand forever, all I want.”
“I Miss Those Days”, “Hate That You Know Me”, and “Everybody Lost Somebody”—also released as singles—embrace a similar pop bluster to “Don’t Take the Money”. Pounding with a Springsteen potency, “I Miss Those Days” carnivalizes melancholia with a battering of driving piano, roaring horns, and pummeling drums. With vocal flourishes by Carly Rae Jepsen, “Hate That You Know Me” presents a sleek electropop tune warped by angst. Bridging the personal and the universal, “Everybody Lost Somebody” adorns reflections on loss with contagious horn hooks and backing choral “yeahs” that register almost spiritually.
Not all of the songs, however, need such bombast. For example, “All My Heroes” feels made for film, its swelling glimmers acting as a perfect accompaniment for a slow-paced montage of rainy contemplation. The final refrain recognizes its cinematic qualities, as Antonoff repeats lines about coming “into focus”, as if he were singing in front of a camera. Even more, the song modernizes soundtrack mainstays so much that you can actually hum the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” neatly over it.
Although the album has the potential for being a pop classic, Antonoff’s overindulgence occasionally gets in his own way. The album missteps quickly on its second track, “Goodmorning”. The song is a saccharine piano romp situated somewhere between Ben Folds and Twenty One Pilots, but only delivers a particular brand of bubble gum that loses its flavor in less than a minute.
The song’s reprise later in the album, refashioned as “Goodbye”, is even less successful. Candied with a ’90s boy band coating, “Goodbye” offers autotuned harmonies that indulge the album’s previous lyrics. But the song is less a charming meta-aesthetic moment than a shallow rollick that belies the album’s depth.
Similarly, “I’m Ready to Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise” tries to encapsulate the album in a Beatlesy coda, but only pastes together experimental scraps of sugary pop. And although “Let’s Get Married” strives for anthem status, the song’s oversimplified positivity feels unearned given the rest of the album’s probing.
Altogether, Gone Now remains a slightly uneven affair, despite the earworms that will be stuck with its listeners all summer and beyond. But these hits are poised to outweigh its misses. The album has all the makings of a dramatic pop masterpiece, which will keep Antonoff’s fans steeped in anticipation for his upcoming work as a producer and performer.