While pop stars may come and go, pop producers usually a longer foothold within the industry. Names like Max Martin have helped shape some of the biggest hits for the biggest stars across the last 20 years. Perhaps one of those meteoric and prolific pop producers in the last 5 years is Jack Antonoff.
Starting with Taylor Swift‘s 1989 7 years ago, the Anttonoff-ication of female pop stars has been quick and successful, with his work contributing to career bests for the likes of Lorde, Lana Del Rey and St Vincent. However, with his success as a producer, it’s sometimes hard to remember Antonoff exists in a spotlight all of his own, and even harder to imagine that he has time to create solo work. On his latest record, Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night, he proves that maybe that solo projects needs more time to reach the heights of his other masterpieces.
Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night is by no means a bad record, and slots nicely into the sound Antonoff has crafted on his last two Bleachers LPs. However, on this latest effort, Antonoff somehow loses the polish and craft of that work in an effort to present it as new and different. Instead, it arrives as a somewhat undercooked, hollowed out version of itself. 2014’s Strange Desire and 2017’s Gone Now framed Bleachers sound in the 80s and 90s against the background of John Hughes movies, with synths and huge choruses. Here, he does that but with some rock instrumentation. The result, at times, is excess in the worst way.
Lead single ‘chinatown’ features vocals from legend Bruce Springsteen, but wastes his talent with overwrought vocal production that makes even Springsteen’s distinct voice almost undistinguishable. The same production actually works wonderfully on the solo ’45’, where it instead gives this hazy distance that works to make it feel almost like a live performance than an album track. Elsewhere, tracks like the 70s rock/80s pop clash ‘Big Life’ feel like they’re trying to do too much and thus fails to do anything.
The record, however, has its moments of magic, largely when Antonoff leans into the sound of his prior work or strips everything back. ‘Don’t Go Dark’ is a huge 80s tune about begging someone to “do what you want, just don’t go dark on me” that John Hughes would have proudly put over the climatic scene in one of his finest coming of age movies.
‘Secret Life’ is a gorgeous soft rock ballad with some wonderful vocals from Del Rey. It simple and effective in its production and its lyricism, not overcomplicating what’s so wonderful about it. ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’ actively tries to do something new for Antonoff, without fearfully grasping at old aesthetics. The track is close and intimate, and Antonoff’s lyricism really holds up to the glare of the microscope the song places on it.
Whether you enjoy Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night or not, it’s hard not to respect the effort that Antonoff makes to take Bleachers’ sonic landscape in a new direction. Though the record has some hard to ignore problems, its good tracks are also hard to ignore and offer something for fans of the 80s synth that were embedded into the DNA of his previous two efforts and for fans hoping for something more nuanced and intimate. While he may not have taken the sadness out of Saturday night, there are definitely some songs that would make wonderful company for that Saturday night misery.