Bleachers review: Self-titled album from Jack Antonoff’s band feels like an experiment gone awry

Antonoff’s many influences fight against one another on this interesting but ultimately confused project

Roisin O'Connor
Thursday 07 March 2024 19:03 GMT
Jack Antonoff in Bleachers album artwork
Jack Antonoff in Bleachers album artwork (Alex Lockett)

Jack Antonoff has worked on albums by Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, St Vincent, and Lorde – all of them excellent, cohesive works. It’s understandable, then, that he might want to let loose with his band Bleachers on their third, self-titled record. If only it reached the heights of those other collaborations.

In a recent Guardian interview, he sniffed at a journalist who compared his rip-roaring “Modern Girl” to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, saying he’d prefer it be linked instead to REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. But Joel’s influence is all over that track, namely in Antonoff’s breakneck observations of New York City: “I’m talkin’/ Little jeans, tiny hat/ Evan Smith, tiny sax/ Drama kings, sing it loud/ Drag that s*** all over town.”

The “tiny sax” prevails for much of the album. It’s there on “Jesus is Dead” as the frontman watches movies at home while the world rages on outside, and again on the muted dance shuffle of “Me Before You”, which feels oddly like a cast-off from The 1975’s 2022 album Being Funny in a Foreign Language (another Antonoff production). Forlorn noodlings on the sax and its frenetic, rasping bursts are actually one of the few constants on a project that otherwise flails, seemingly unclear on what it wants to be.

A few years ago, Antonoff told The Independent that “the best chance you [have] of connecting with other human beings is being honest… don’t tell the story above the brutal one, tell the brutal story”. Credit to him, Antonoff does just that in his lyrics, which touch on themes of love, marriage, grief, contentment, and maturity. It’s the instrumentation that’s getting in the way on this record – and the fact that he’s trying to sound like Springsteen, Bowie, The National’s Matt Berninger, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor (of Dandy Warhols fame) at any given moment.

It’s odd, particularly for someone who’s spoken at length about his belief in sincerity. He puts on an affected, Bon Iver-style delivery for “Alma Mater”, a directionless drive around town that features a Lana Del Rey cameo so brief it hardly seems worth it. You hear the dull “bong” of a clock as he whispers: “I am right on… time.” Bleachers occasionally lets Antonoff’s genius shine through, but more often it feels like an experiment gone awry.

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