Urgency has always been at the core of what Bleachers – the band led by Jack Antonoff, producer to Lorde, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, and Clairo – do. On their 2014 single ‘I Wanna Get Better’, it came in the form of “standing on an overpass screaming at the cars / ‘I wanna get better’”. On 2017’s ‘Everybody Lost Somebody’, it was Antonoff “trying to get myself back home”, yelping for someone to “take my clothes – that’s better”.
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On the band’s third album, ‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’, that feeling is still there, but it now comes with a companion: desperation. The record captures that sentiment in many forms – from the aftermath of Antonoff’s 2018 break-up with actor-director Lena Dunham, the feeling of wanting to break free from his native New Jersey, the intense longing to play with his band when pandemic restrictions made it impossible.
Bleachers’ past releases might have dealt in the dark moments of life – loss, death and grieving among them – but they did so in a way that felt like you were exorcising your own ghosts by singing along. There are glimpses of that here, but also moments that leave you ruminating on your own need for escape, to run away from – or towards – something. It might not leave you feeling as euphoric as what’s come before, but its lingering sensation is a testament to the power of Antonoff’s immersive songwriting.
‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ begins with ’91’, co-written by author Zadie Smith, gorgeously led by staccato strings that march beneath the Bleachers leader’s voice. “I’m here but I’m not / And just like you I can’t leave,” he sings, tied to his home state even if he wants to get out. ‘Stop Making This Hurt’ is what Antonoff has termed a folk song, using people around him (Del Rey, his parents, his sister Rachel) and their situations to illuminate his own feelings. Between each verse of stories, he offers some advice, both to them and himself: “Stop making this hurt / And say goodbye like you mean it.” It’s shouted with such enthusiasm, it makes you want to bundle up your pain and kick it to the curb then and there.
’45’, pretty and acoustic-based, is one of the record’s most powerful points. Antonoff grapples with the end of a relationship, telling an ex: “Now you’re just the stranger that I know best.” Just because they’re gone from his life doesn’t mean they’ve vacated his heart; in one of the album’s most beautiful lines, he sings: “Hey, I’m still inside / Your fast machine/ I’m always holding your love supreme.”
Bleachers’ third album is their strongest effort so far – the most cohesive, with the most poignant lyricism and musical moments. It moves away from the big synths and ‘80s pop of its predecessors in favour of the more organic sounds found on some of the pop records Antonoff has produced of late (like Clairo’s ‘Sling’ or Del Rey’s ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’), and the strings and acoustic guitars bring out the album’s emotions more vividly.
On ‘Don’t Go Dark’, aided in the writing room by Del Rey, the gentle twinkles in the background reflect Antonoff’s commands to someone who’s losing their light. “Do what you want but just don’t go dark on me,” he urges. A choir of backing vocalists joins him later, their voices sounding like floodlights being turned on to chase away the shadows. The idea of escaping the dark appears on ‘Chinatown’, which features the king of New Jersey himself, Bruce Springsteen. “Get in my backseat, honeypie / And I’ll wear your sadness like it’s mine,” Antonoff sings, turning on the engine for a road trip out of the city to “find tomorrow”.
Del Rey and The Boss have other appearances on the record – either literally or figuratively. Lana lends her vocals to ‘Secret Life’, a gentle, woozy dream of a life where “you and I can get bored out of our minds”, while Springsteen’s influence can be felt on the riotously fun ‘Big Life’. “I wanna know what happens when the going gets tough,” Antonoff sings on the latter. “’Cause I’m after a big life.”
That line hints at what lies at the core of ‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ – a question mark. What if we do escape, break free, get everything we want? What will life be like if there isn’t that push and pull of sadness and desperation drawing us out of constant happiness? As he puts it on ‘Stop Making This Hurt’: “If we take the sadness out of Saturday night, I wonder what we’ll be left with / Anything worth the fight?”
Antonoff has often described his songwriting as a way to figure things out, and that line feels like a Eureka moment. We need that tension to make the highs remarkable and the good stuff important. Plus: without it, we couldn’t get records as good as this taking us on that journey.
Label: RCA Records
Release date: July 30, 2021