Bleachers' 'Strange Desire' was released to generally positive acclaim in the US last year but for whatever reason has only just made it to these shores. On the strength of the songs here though, a delay of three decades seems more realistic, given how adeptly they pick over the musical bones of the 1980s - a possibility, were it not for the fact that Bleachers' Jack Antonoff was only born in 1984.
Antonoff is guitarist in New York guitar pop band Fun., and worked with Taylor Swift on her '1989' album, a record which also looked deep into the '80s pop canon for musical inspiration. For his Bleachers side project, Antonoff wanted to aim for the kind of emotionally stirring songs that would have appeared as the title track to a John Hughes movie.
On the whole, Antonoff seems to capture the popular, stylised (/ idealised) notion of the essence of the decade pretty well, with tracks possessing the unashamedly big, anthemic choruses and bold electronic colour palettes that most people think were staples from that period. There are prominent echoes of bands like Wang Chung, A Flock Of Seagulls and others - bands often overlooked or derided in surveys of the big bands from the '80s, but as important to the fabric of that period as any Simple Minds or Huey Lewis And The News.
'Strange Desire' works off a relatively consistent formula of quiet, introspective verses that switch suddenly into almost embarrassingly massive transcendent choruses. Somewhere along the line, in the popular recollection of the 1980s, the shouty choruses of hair metal bands and the deft stadium-optimised choruses of Springsteen and Petty got fused - or confused - with new wave and electronic pop, and that all-encompassing clash of styles is evident on 'Strange Desire' - the stand-out 'Wild Heart' (one of a handful of tracks here recorded with Erasure's Vince Clarke) and 'Reckless Love' being two examples. It's not a criticism, more an observation that most of the bands that Antonoff celebrates here didn't need a Five Seconds Of Summer-style terrace chorus effect to deliver an emotionally-weighty chorus.
The rousing 'I Wanna Get Better' is the obvious peak here, being unashamedly loud and anthemic, even if at its heart it's a desperate plea for therapy, while 'Reckless Love' seems less of a tribute to the decade in which Antonoff was born and instead nods to the dour miserablism of The National; both of these tower over quieter, less obvious tracks like 'Wake Me' or 'Like A River Runs' which possess more emotional sensitivity and period authenticity than the big tracks do.
On the whole, 'Strange Desire' is a brilliant, brilliant album, ploughing a similar emotional furrow to M83's 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' - just with more pop nous. To those who didn't live through the 1980s, it will sound fresh and timeless; to those of us who did it will surely have us heading to our dusty LP collections to reminisce sadly over our lost youths.
Words: Mat Smith
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