Bleachers’ latest LP showcases new stylistic range and electrifying singles.
Maybe it was the dusky blue cover artwork or the vibrant energy of the singles or perhaps just the enticing, twilit romanticism of the title, but Bleachers’ third studio album Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night seemed poised to be their most cohesive and expressive LP to date. And on one hand the album does see the band venture further out of their comfort zone of anthemic 80s rock, adopting a more sombre and reflective tone. But on the other, it isn’t the fully-fleshed and purposeful record it could have been.
The New Jersey rock band is the project of acclaimed producer and multi-instrumentalist Jack Antonoff. As well as playing in the bands Steel Train and Fun., Antonoff has made a name for himself writing and producing for chart-topping acts like Taylor Swift and Lorde, and acclaimed indie stars including Lana Del Rey, Clairo and St. Vincent. The fact that he’s had time to write, record and produce a third Bleachers album alongside his other projects during the chaos of the last two years is admirable enough on its own. The consistent quality of the singles released prior to the LP is therefore a real testament to Antonoff’s skill as a songwriter.
And to give the album its due, if it weren’t for these teasers, Take the Sadness would undoubtedly be a greatly rewarding listen. But when the strongest songs are the ones you already know, the 10-track album winds up a little underwhelming.
That said, the raw, urgent cello of ‘91’ makes for an interesting opening to the album. While previous Bleachers projects, both 2014’s Strange Desire and 2017’s Gone Now, opened with a powerful, stadium-ready rock song, here the band try their hands at baroque pop. And this isn’t the only track with an orchestral flourish; both the final two songs are tastefully garnished with flute and brass.
The band are still at their most confident on higher energy tracks, where they’ve perfected the formula for that elusive, Springsteen-esque euphoria – Strange Desire’s life-affirming lead single ‘I Wanna Get Better’ remains perhaps their finest achievement. But even Born in the USA has its softer moments, and on this new LP, Bleachers thankfully give their feel-good moments more room to breathe, rather than being stacked up against each other, and they hit harder as a result.
Talking of Springsteen, the man himself is featured on the single ‘Chinatown’. Although the track begins a little cold and metallic, with Antonoff’s vocals sounding distant and over-produced, when Bruce joins in, it’s suddenly absolute fire. His gruff voice lends an invigorating energy and humanity that the uplifting melody craves.
The album dabbles a little in the highly-produced, 80s sound the band are known for, chiefly on ‘Don’t Go Dark’, probably the strongest non-single. But when Antonoff combines his talent for youthful, exhilarating melodies with a more stripped-back, organic sound, it’s lightning in a bottle. ‘How Dare You Want More?’ bubbles with an effortless sense of spontaneity. With a playful call and response between the lead guitar and saxophone and an absolutely killer sax solo, the band concoct an infectious party atmosphere.
‘Stop Making This Hurt’ is just as joyful, with bright piano chords and a hook that just begs to be yelled at the top of the lungs. Lyrically, the track speaks to a recurrent theme of the record, that of broken dreams and disillusionment, with Antonoff questioning, ‘if we take the sadness out of Saturday night, / I wonder what we’ll be left with, anything worth the fight?’
The other two singles, ‘45’ and ‘Secret Life’ aren’t quite as dazzling but the former has a cosy, nostalgic warmth to it, while the second is altogether new ground for Bleachers. Featuring Lana del Rey as a backing vocalist, the close, fuzzy number would sound perfectly inconspicuous on an album by Eels.
However the songs that plug the gaps between the singles are noticeably weaker. The crisp, jangly introduction to ‘Big Life’ instantly evokes the colourful guitar pop of the Bangles or the Pretenders but, with its rather aimless melody, the track doesn’t live up to the comparison. ‘Strange Behavior’ is nicely arranged but, at the end of day, a completely forgettable tune. The final track is considerably more effective, concluding the record on a sombre note as Antonoff despairs, ‘Oh what do I do with all this faith? / Cause ain’t no faith could take your place.’
This brings the album to a close at just 34 minutes. Although it frustratingly misses out on being more than a handful of fantastic singles with some padding in between, Take the Sadness still gives us a lot more that works than doesn’t. And if you haven’t heard ‘How Dare You Want More’ or ‘Stop Making This Hurt’ yet, give the record a listen – you’re in for a treat.
Listen to Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night: