Written by Megan West
Gone Now feels big. Not only because of wall of sound each song on the album presents, but because of the force behind them, New Jersey songwriter Jack Antonoff. As Bleachers front man and pop-star ghostwriter, Antonoff wears a few hats. After a slew of projects starting in his teens, his band Fun’s album, Some Nights, went platinum. Instead of diving headfirst into music that had proven commercially successful (Fun’s “We are Young” won the Grammy for Song of the Year at the 2013 awards), Antonoff moved on.
If there’s a consistent strain through all of Antonoff’s work, it’s an unabashed love of pop music. You can tell this by looking at the number of writing credits he has on songs by major pop stars, like Taylor Swift, Sara Bareilles, and Lorde, or you can turn on the first single off of Gone Now, “Don’t Take the Money.”
It’s a funny career path for a guy who was signed to the label Fueled by Ramen, home to bands such as All Time Low and Panic! at the Disco, whose appeal hinges on the fact that they have, in some way, “rejected” the mainstream. They are alternative, pop-punk. They wouldn’t be caught dead on the Billboard Hot 100, and are at home in the bedrooms of teenagers who consider their interest in less famous music a rejection of vapid, consumer-culture of pop.
But pop is what Antonoff does best, and it’s no doubt that some of the most interesting music coming out today is mainstream. Bashing what the masses are eating up does not hold as much weight as it did five years ago. Antonoff is certainly fully submerged in the pop world, well-versed enough in the tropes of the hit anthems that he can manipulate them to his liking.
Gone Now is the space in which Antonoff has free creative reign, and he choses layered vocals, ’80s synths, and saxophone solos that reference a deep familiarity with the Bruce Springsteen catalogue. There is something deeply personal in the music—he is even taking his childhood bedroom (repurposed into a touring art installation) on tour. He described the bedroom as the “birthplace” and “center of inspiration” of Gone Now. This is evident in the New Jersey influences that spiral their way to the center of the music, and in the tension at the forefront of the conflict in the album, namely a reluctance to grow up, and a self-awareness of his own position in the music scene.
The unexpected mash-up of childhood dreams and cramped bedrooms with catchy choruses, synth pop, and spaced-out production is what sets Bleachers apart. Jack Antonoff is attuned to the past and present; “Foreign Girls,” which closes out the album, sounds like it’s trying to channel the energy of Chance the Rapper, while gated-reverb drums recall Phil Spector and Springsteen’s “Born This Way.”
It would be a stretch to say that Gone Now is a cohesive album. It promises something at the beginning that it fails to deliver. “Dream of Mickey Mantle” and “Goodmorning” seem to hint at a concept album, but Gone Now takes a hard right turn towards the major pop tracks (“Don’t Take the Money,” “Hate That You Know Me”).
These songs unfortunately seem like outliers when placed between songs that take a more reserved approach and miss the mark. But Antonoff is earnest. So earnest, in fact, that more uneven tracks are, perhaps, as easy to enjoy as the stand outs. Gone Now swings big, and improves upon the debut. Here’s to more Bleachers (and more Antonoff) in the pop catalogue.