Album Review: Bleachers – ‘Bleachers’

Posted: by The Editor

The best records, the ones that stick with you through the years, are the ones that grow with you, revealing a little more with every spin. Jack Antonoff’s work as Bleachers kind of functions in the opposite way: instead of getting better with each listen, every pass through reveals the emptiness beneath these tunes a bit more. While the latest self-titled Bleachers record certainly feels more deliberate and intentional than Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night—which felt like a record Antonoff made simply because he was under contract, like a student half-assing an assignment—the outcome is ultimately uneven, with not much here demanding a revisit.

Take the high energy single “Modern Girl” that kicks off the record proper after the steady-but-directionless synthy opener “I Am Right on Time.” At first, “Modern Girl” goes down pretty smoothly, the wailing sax—a strength of Bleachers—sounding great. But, the more you run the song back, the more it starts to feel like a high school show choir riffing on a combo of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, while the words “all the modern girls shaking your ass tonight” just don’t sound natural coming from Antonoff.

One of the reasons Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night fails to resonate after the first couple listens was the bland, low-effort lyrics (“California dreaming, got the best of both worlds” sounds like a placeholder line that Antonoff forgot to go back and replace), but the more effort he puts forward on Bleachers results in some corny, clunky lines that catch your ear for all the wrong reasons. “She’s my alma mater / summer’s getting hotter,” for example, is a line no one old enough to have a literal alma mater should have ever included in a song, let alone as the hook, while “the day the Kobe fell from the sky / the day that Kendall Pepsi smiled” brings an excessive amount of cringe to the otherwise solid “Self Respect.” “Jesus Is Dead” is particularly egregious in this area with the shameless “I’m not the man who sold the world,” the questionable “a teenage girl just sized me up / it’s something I don’t wanna discuss,” and the eye-roll-inducing “Jesus is dead / and so is New York.” Musically, the tune isn’t bad, flipping from a steady early 2k indie feel to a jam with some killer sax blaring overtop.

Like with “Stop Making This Hurt” on Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, Antonoff slotted a single with a genuine bounce at track six on Bleachers with “Tiny Moves,” easily the strongest track here. “Isimo” is a solid outing as well, and the pair form a centerpiece for the record that successfully balances feelings of momentousness and nostalgia. 

From there, the record largely meanders to the end. “Woke Up Today” is a fine enough acoustic track in the manner of Led Zeppelin III, but fails to latch on to any of the emotions it’s grasping at and ends with another lyrical clunker. “Hey Joe”—an attempt at a lofi acoustic front porch strummer that aims at the middle ground “Hotel Yorba” and “Anyone Else But You”—probably could have just been left off the record, while “Call Me After Midnight” is a reminder that not everyone can be Prince, even if most of us wish we could. The synth-focused “Ordinary Heaven” is one of the lusher soundscapes on the record, but Antonoff doesn’t do much with it and, in fact, can’t let it sit without inserting an ugly, off-putting bass tone underneath.

While there is certainly some hope or comfort in the fact that someone making music with guitars—and with such a conscious focus on “traditional” rock and roll—can reach the level of fame and following as Antonoff, you also just wish there was more to dig into on these Bleachers records. Unfortunately, much like in Godzilla vs. Kong, the surface beneath the earth on Bleachers appears to be hollow.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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