Album Review: Fun.’s Jack Antonoff travels back to the ’80s for Bleachers’ ‘Strange Desire’

As one-third of fun., Jack Antonoff gets to explore many facets of his pop sensibilities. On “Strange Desire,” the debut album from his side project, Bleachers,”  out Tuesday (15), he gets to indulge his quirkier side, and sing lead.

Even though Antonoff wasn”t born until 1984, “Strange Desire” is so awash in ’80s sounds, from big, echo-y drums, to funky, jangly guitars, that it”s almost possible to take each song and come up with its ’80s analog. Squiggly guitar riffs crash into each other, layered vocals soar over synths, and it feels like a dance party could break out on the street where you live at any moment. Bleachers could share a bill with Modern English, OMD, Oingo Boingo, The Cult, The Cure, and New Order. Opening track “Wild Heart” has a light-hearted, skipping keyboard similar to The Buggles” “Video Killed The Radio Star,” before it gives way to walls of synths.

Antonoff has talked about wanting the album to have a John Hughes feel. And, indeed, a number of songs on here would have fit right in on the “Pretty In Pink” soundtrack- yearning inspirational first single, “I Wanna Get Better,” being one of the few that does not sound like Molly Ringwald”s Andi should be playing it in her bedroom while waiting for Andrew McCarthy”s Blaine to call.  

While much of the music is upbeat, the subject matter deals with loss, the immediate aftermath, and trying to overcome, learn from it and move on. Antonoff wrote many of the songs with producer John Hill, who worked with many of the acts Antonoff is emulating here, including Erasure and Yaz.

Antonoff is going for a mood here and while his themes may become slightly repetitive, he has created an immersive world where beats bounce like ping pong balls on obvious single, “Rollercoaster” (even when he suggest she suck on his little toe) and synth lines skitter in between drum beats on “Shadow.”

A few of the tracks reach the outer fringes and seem weird simply because no one is going to tell Antonoff that he can”t do something:  “I”m Ready To Move On/Wild Heart Reprise” sounds like Yoko Ono crossed with Tangerine Dream. There”s a good reason it sounds like Ono, since she is on the track (which is different somewhat from her similarly-titled “Double Fantasy” tune, “I”m Moving On”), and the track will likely appeal to only Ono fans. Organ-drenched, album closer “Who I Want You To Love,” which is largely instrumental with ambient voices in the background, feel extraneous  But to his credit, one thing “Strange Desire” never is is boring. If you”re not willing to step back in time, however, you might want to just wait for the next fun. album.