It’s been three years since Strange Desire marked the advent of Bleachers, the solo venture of Jack Antonoff. You may know him from Steel Train, as the guitarist of fun., or perhaps from his number of collaborations, with artists like Taylor Swift, Sia, and Grimes, but with Bleachers he set out to establish a name for himself, most strongly doing so with the shout-it-from-the-rooftops energy of “I Wanna Get Better.” As a whole, Strange Desire got mixed reception, but it’s a passionate venture and sounds very singularly like something Antonoff would create in spite of its Eighties inspirations, bearing vocal samples and musical reprises within its indie-pop stylings.
Last week, Antonoff debuted his sophomore album under the Bleachers moniker, Gone Now. It remains in a similar realm to the one Strange Desire established, but exists entirely in its own right, with just a few subtle throwbacks that fans of the debut can appreciate, such as the samples from its opening track that are peppered into “Goodmorning” or the reprisal track being titled “I’m Ready To Move On,” just as on Strange Desire.
On the whole, Gone Now is its own, immersive world. Its continuation of the Eighties indie-pop style is decidedly livelier, guitar and synths accented by saxophones and trumpets and grounded by melodic piano riffs, and even in his wistful reflections, the music feels so alive that it’s difficult to resist its cheering effect.
While almost all of the album’s tracks can easily be enjoyed individually, its self-referential nature and recurring themes make it evidently intended as a cohesive effort, in which sense it truly shines. Antonoff digs through ill-advised wistfulness and regret and explores the different sides of romance, leaving you at the end feeling like you’ve advanced through these introspections right alongside him.
“Dream Of Mickey Mantle” is the nostalgic, catchy number that opens the album, and although it’s the base of some later reprisals, it mostly feels like a prelude for the true setup to the album in “Goodmorning,” which is where the album really starts to stabilize itself and kick into gear. It’s a piano-driven piece of determination, reflecting on the past and driven about “coming back from the dead” as it builds with trumpets and saxophone before a quiet finish that transitions into the next track (a technique used a few times throughout the album).
Gone Now continues to kick up in energy from there. “Hate That You Know Me” is full of genuine emotion driven by synths, electronic beats, and backing vocals by Carly Rae Jepsen and Lorde; possibly the most compelling touch to the song is the spoken part of the verses, which are incredibly cathartic, particularly in the final, shouted rendition.
Lorde joins Antonoff once again in lead single “Don’t Take The Money,” a free-flowing song pleading for a romance to stay together. “Let’s Get Married” looks on the brighter side of a relationship as it playfully speaks of impulsiveness, whereas “Nothing Is U” is a dedicated, romantic ballad, in which soft, passionate vocals are backed by thoughtful piano.
The album reaches one of its most reflective points in “Everybody Lost Somebody,” an emotional song inspired by Antonoff’s loss of a sister at age 18. The horns that backdrop Antonoff’s primarily upbeat vocals give a positive sheen to the song, but a depth of confliction and loss come across clearly in his lyrics, particularly as he proclaims, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to settle up with heaven / That’s a debt I’ve gotta settle in heaven.”
“Goodbye” is an odd blip on the album; the piano-laden, autotuned piece has a catchy beat, but is a simplified reprisal of “Goodmorning.” This would be a more interesting bookend if not for the fact that its nearly three minutes of run time consist primarily of the same four lines repeated, and the fact that it lands oddly in the middle of the album. Furthermore, the refrain shows up within both of the last two tracks, which makes “Goodbye” feel slightly redundant, particularly since the reprisal is more compelling in its context as a subtle nod. Though it does help reinforce the “Goodmorning” / “Goodbye” refrain for the sake of the cohesive effort, it doesn’t feel necessary, certainly not at the cost of 3 minutes of an already-brief 40 minutes of total run time.
Nonetheless, it does set the stage for “I’m Ready To Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise,” which begins with intermittent jazzy sax among instrumental minimalism and autotuned vocals before moving to the brief, titular reprise and then to a pensive return of the “Goodbye” refrain at the end as vocal samples build over it, leading into the album closer. “Foreign Girls” is a confident conclusion, moving beyond the nostalgia frequently visited throughout the album and instead looking to a brighter future. It echoes the necessity of getting back home established by “Goodmorning” before one last visit to the “Goodbye” refrain to effectively give the album closure.
As previously stated, almost every track on Gone Now contains individual value, so if your music never comes off of shuffle then there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be found here. But if you are into the full-album experience, it’s an extra selling point, and for my part, subsequent listens heightened my appreciation of the album since that allowed for better appreciation of the recurring themes.
If you didn’t enjoy Antonoff’s first solo romp, there’s no guarantee that Gone Now will change your mind. It feels more cohesive as an album, and it feels a little livelier and slightly more complex, but none of those things, from my perspective, are objective qualifiers. But if you’re in the market for some fun, Eighties-inspired pop, Gone Now is certainly worth a try; if you liked Strange Desire, the similar style here will probably appeal to you (although I’d advise going in without expectations). In general, it’s an album with flaws, but it’s also one with many upsides that has an interesting tale to tell if you’re willing to listen.