Coming off his huge successes as a member of fun. and with his songwriting for Sara Bareilles and Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff could have done pretty much anything he wanted musically. He decided to time travel back to the '80s and write songs for John Hughes-directed high school movies that never happened. That's the short version of what Bleachers is all about, anyway. On the first album under that name, Strange Desire, Antonoff does indeed attempt to capture the equally tortured and triumphant nature of Hughes' movies, and high school itself, but he's not stuck in the past. Much like fellow travelers M83, he makes full use of a wide range of modern recording techniques and electronics throughout the record. He also calls in the services of one of the most up-to-date artists he could, Grimes. (She provides some vocal acrobatics on one track "Take Me Away.") It's more of a fusion of past and present that totally works as an expression of teenage angst, and it's also a lot of fun. Alternating between epic anthems that are meant to be sung along with at top volume ("Like a River Runs"); rollicking empowerment jams ("Shadow") that feature mass vocals on the choruses; thoughtful middle of the night ballads ("Who I Want You to Love"); a track that out-Drakes Drake in its miserable R&B ballad introspection ("Take Me Away"), and a bunch of flat-out excellent pop songs ("Rollercoaster," "You're Still a Mystery," "I Want to Get Better") that put his contemporaries' offerings to shame, Strange Desire is a pretty great debut with a lot going for it. The production is huge and intricate, built for both stadiums and late-night headphone listening. The lyrics are emotionally ripped bloody, but they're not over the top and are easy to relate to, especially if you had a rough time in high school. Antonoff's vocals are pleasantly strong with little or no affectation, something you can't always say about the leader of his day job band. He's not working any new vein in the rich history of melodramatic rock & roll, and one can detect traces that go back as far as Springsteen, but the effort and emotion that went into the album make it a success. If Bleachers is the result of Antonoff's blank check, he spent his capital wisely and came up with a concept and result that compare very favorably to his regular gig. In fact, if he walked away from fun. and stuck with this all the time, it might be for the best. No matter what he ends up doing, Strange Desire is a very strong slice of modern nostalgia that gets better with every listen.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra