Music Review: Bleachers edge past The Boss as Jack Antonoff finds a new sort of peace

Self-titled albums are the traditional way for a musical act to introduce themselves. Here I am, they say — here’s where it starts. So what are we to make of Bleachers’ new album, their fourth and self-titled?

It signals that “Bleachers” is a rebirth of sorts. Singer-songwriter Jack Antonoff — the accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Grammy-winning super-producer and New Jersey cool kid — offers a mature, kaleidoscopic 14 tracks, with turns into softer directions and styles.

If Bleachers in the past was all angsty attitude, barreling down the Garden State Parkway with a middle finger through the sunroof, this time Bleachers is cuddling on the sofa. “I’ll make your bed/I’ll make your home,” Antonoff sings in the Beatles-esque “Woke Up Today.”

Bruce Springsteen — who had a guest appearance on the last Bleachers’ album, “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” — stays away this time, but as always looms over the new set, particularly when E Street-style horns erupt and threaten to swallow songs. Antonoff seems to believe that a sax solo is always the perfect addition. (He’s an expert, but he’s wrong.)

“Bleachers” shows less of The Boss on its sleeve than previous outings. “Tiny Moves,” with its ’80s synth could be on the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack, while “Self Respect” mixes the chilliness of The National with the bombast of The Killers. Antonoff mimics The 1975 in the superb “Call Me After Midnight.”

The album highlight has to be the ambitious “Hey Joe,” a sort of 2024 response to Simon & Garfunkel’s ”Mrs. Robinson,” with Antonoff talking across generations, discussing war and fathers and Marilyn Monroe. “We tried giving peace a chance but didn’t know what it is,” he sings.

Antonoff’s clout is subtly shown with his collaborators: Lana Del Rey and Florence Welch offer vocals and co-write on a song each, Matt Healy from The 1975 plays piano on another with Aaron Dessner from The National as co-writer. But his guests don’t pop up in the songs that you expect will sound like them.

There are lyrical nods to Tom Waits and Bowie, and pop culture references to Kobe Bryant, Kendall Jenner, Ken Burns, “Phantom Thread” and Balenciaga. The barn-burning “Modern Girl” has Antonoff mocking himself with one of his best lines: “I guess I’m/New Jersey’s finest New Yorker/unreliable reporter/pop music hoarder/some guy playing quarters.”

Antonoff’s recent marriage to Margaret Qualley may have re-centered him — “Me Before You” is a “Streets of Philadelphia”-style look back at a man who has new perspective. There is a happy domesticity throughout the album, and Qualley’s voice is embedded in a track.

The album careens off a cliff at the end, with the final three tracks meandering, self-indulgent messes with distorted vocals. That means the album ends with a whine, which is a pity. Antonoff has finally pushed past The Boss and found new ways to express himself. He’s earned the self-title.


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