This has been one of my most highly anticipated albums this year. Jack Antonoff permeates the music industry, whether it’s his involvement in Taylor Swift’s Folklore/evermore (plus every album from 1989 onwards) or Lana Del Rey’s NFR! and Chemtrails Over the Country Club, and he has become vital in the creation of modern pop albums.
Now, it has long been his turn to create an album that evokes what he personally wants, with the help of artists such as Lana and even the legendary Bruce Springsteen. This new album is a fantastic (albeit inconsistent) effort that discusses the matters of escapism and nostalgia within the confines of an album that bridges pop and calls upon each of its influences.
The album came with a number of singles that (mostly) highlight the best and brightest of the effort. “Chinatown” has already been discussed at length, and my cheerful recommendation of the album continues. Bruce’s voice echoes like a memory through the tracks as a previous musical highlight of New Jersey, as if to signal his appreciation and his symbol of approval. The track, one of the single most evocative of this idea of ‘escapism’ and moving forward, parallels with works of Springsteenian origin like “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run”, although its instrumentation more matches something that a modern Springsteen, a la Letter to You, would create.
Springsteen’s influence isn’t restricted to just "Chinatown". “Big Life”, a track I find among the weaker works on the album, but still a solid effort, oozes with "Born to Run" and "Born in the U.S.A.", sprinkled with a sort of a 1950s rock feel. It evokes sounds of “Night” and “Glory Days” mixed together somehow, on Antonoff’s own last-chance power drive. The effect is muted here, but I can’t quite shake it off.
As for Lana Del Rey, one of Antonoff’s frequent collaborators, her influence is felt on tracks like “Secret Life” (where she directly features), but also “91” and “45”. The former in particular is the most ‘unique’ track on the album, and early fans of “Chinatown” would notice bits of it echoing in the first few seconds of the music video.
It’s fitting, given their sequential placement on the album, but its artsy nature makes it stand out if only as something special and different within the album. The latter, “45”, just sounds like Lana had her claws on it. It feels like an outcome of the NFR! Sessions, lyrically comparable to “Mariner’s Apartment Complex”, but about leaving town. It completes the motif of escape explored in “91”, “Chinatown”, and “Big Life”, while also referencing songs like “Don’t Go Dark” within its lyrics. It helps uncover a hidden piece of the work: this aspect of not giving up and continuing despite the pain, that I think echoes through the whole work.
One of the points of contention I have with this album is between two of the other singles: “How Dare You Want More” and “Stop Making This Hurt”. The former is the “Big Life” sound done better, with a much stronger live performance flanked by saxophone and vibrant guitar, whereas the other feels like a post-disco pastiche fueling a pop song to create the most radio-friendly track on the whole album.
“Stop Making This Hurt” absolutely punches with its vibrant sound, and serves as one of two notable bright spots on a far melancholier album. The other bright spot is the following track, “Don’t Go Dark”, which sounds like something The Killers might make, like a down-tempo “Dustland”. It’s bright, but not in the up-tempo way of its neighbor track. Instead, it’s got this air of desperation between two lovers in a relationship, where one is dealing with their own troubles.
It’s a song that grows on me with each listen, and sounds like the sort of song most at home in an arena. It showcases an emotional weakness, cut by toxicity, in that relationship, and how the speaker is unwilling to continue to stand it. It is also one of the tracks that most grows from listen to listen, and I think it will be one I continue to come back to.
The five highlights I would indicate on this album are “91”, “Chinatown”, “Stop Making This Hurt”, “Don’t Go Dark”, and “45”. They shine well above the rest, but I still think “Secret Life” and “How Dare You Want More” are good themselves.
Another of my greatest contentions with the album is that such a wonderful experience is ended by two of the weakest tracks on the whole album: “Strange Behavior” and “What’d I Do With All This Faith?”. Their presence on the album isn’t unwelcome, but I do not care as much for the arrangement within the piece.
For an album like this, ending with such a downer track like “What’d I Do...” feels like a betrayal. It’s a great song, but I think it would be suited better right after “Don’t Go Dark” and before “45”, to reveal that frustration and desperation.
With that said, however, I love this album. It grows on me with more listens, but I want to hear more of these tracks live before making a final judgment. I wholeheartedly recommend it, however, and I think that the tracks are a great translation of this nostalgic atmosphere coupled with the hopeful themes of escape, nostalgia, and perseverance, and can broadly resonate with most listeners.
I really do think that this album will be the breakthrough for Jack Antonoff as a lead, and I wish him the best on a coming tour, if the current situation allows for it. I would rate this album a 7/10. Its arrangement could be better and there are certainly weak spots, but I think that the strong points more than overshadow it and the themes within it are cohesive and powerful.
Listen to Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night here!