Hey, isn’t that the guy from Fun.? With the glasses?
Perhaps this summer’s biggest from-out-of-nowhere story is the band Bleachers. As frontman Jack Antonoff tells it, this was music that he worked on in private, aside from the band Fun. while on tour. He kept it a secret from the band, fearing it may cause a rift. Since then the others in the band have stated there are no issues, the band isn’t breaking up, and to prove there is no bad blood, Fun. even played a new unrecorded song on the Tonight Show this summer called “Harsh Lights”. What many don’t realize is that just as Fun.’s lead singer Nate Ruess formerly fronted an indie rock band called The Format, Jack fronted a band called Steel Train. Go on… look on Spotify. Surprise! He has been so much more than just a guitarist all this time.
So how does the album compare to Fun.? Well it does, and then it doesn’t. Jack has many 80s and 90s influences which he proudly wears on his sleeve. He and his production collaborator John Hill mix an instantly catchy songwriting and harmony approach with modern production techniques similar to Jeff Bhasker’s style of production on Fun.’s Some Nights. This is most apparent on the lead single and video “I Wanna Get Better”, with it’s choppy keyboard-via-a-skipping-CD as a basic melody. Much of the album is steeped in a kind of jubilant angst that makes for great instant singalongs on many of the album’s highlights such as “Shadow” and “Wild Heart”. He even brings along some interesting guests for the ride. Vince Clarke of Erasure, Yaz and Depeche Mode fame joins on “Wild Heart”, a song that kicks off the album with sweeping Disintegration grandeur. “Shadow” is a jangly rock song that sounds somewhere between The Smiths and Walk The Moon musically, with a big sounding group style vocal about loving someone’s faults. “Rollercoaster”, the newest single is a feel-good song about being after someone who is in fact a rollercoaster of a personality. Best re-use of the phrase “Killer Queen” here.
“Wake Me” gives us some moodier stuff that could be a more rhythmic Arcade Fire musically, and is a sweet love song where Jack woos someone with “I’d rather be sad with you, than with any other girls than you”. One of the more memorable songs here. “Reckless Love” is almost acoustic singer-songwriter style meets a modern production style with electronics. In fact that’s one thing that holds these songs together. Whenever something feels familiar, there’s some strange element countering it. “Take Me Away” swerves into gentle EDM territory without being contrived. Then we we return to the big and bombastic with “Like A River Runs”. This coupled with the next big catchy song, “You’re Still a Mystery” keep the steam going with another sing-along worthy track, and one of the album’s finest melodies.
Then Yoko Ono of all people makes an almost puzzling lead vocal appearance on “I’m Ready To Move On/Wild Heart Reprise”, an album closer that isn’t the last song oddly. Also hidden there in the liner notes, Jack manages to sneak in Fun.’s other vastly underrated member Andrew Dost on backing vocals, giving a boost to the harmonies in these songs. The track is in many ways a summery of bits of the musical and lyrical ideas and tries to tie it all together like a finale. Except, like with Fun.’s Some Nights album, there’s an additional track, almost like an encore. “Who I Want You To Love” is a reflective quieter track with a few strange sound effects lingering in the background that give it a scary feel, like the past haunting his thoughts as he sings about past and future heartache. But then we get a bright string section, which decays into several voices. Jack Antonoff’s head, ladies and gentlemen.
Strange Desire is a smorgasbord of emotions and genres as Jack and Bleachers cherry pick a little new wave here, some sugary pop there, some darker wave like The Cure, a sprinkle of Talking Heads at their most percussive, a little She Wants Revenge when Jack sings in his lower range, and then season it with some of the songcraft that makes Fun. such a great band, while keeping its own identity as Bleachers. My only hope is that the success of Bleachers doesn’t cause an upset within the band Fun. This is definitely one side project that doesn’t feel like a side project. That in itself is a major accomplishment.
Get your copy of Strange Desire HERE:
Check out some videos and performances from Strange Desire:
“I Wanna Get Better”:
“Thank You Very Much” – a public access show spoof with performances from the album:
and from a radio appearance, here is the band covering Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”: