For the past two years, the Jack Antonoff blueprint has been inescapable. He appeared on everything from commercially successful projects such as Taylor Swift’s Lover to critical hallmarks including Lana Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell!. Antonoff made his presence as a respected producer loud and clear, joining the ranks of Max Martin, Timbaland, and Pharrell Williams as 21st–century prodigies. But hidden behind his renowned collaboration work is a solo discography just as large and diverse.
Antonoff has released music under the stage name Bleachers for years following the success of his time as the guitarist for the band “fun.” Rather than recycling the '70s influences found on his recent work on Clairo’s Sling and St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home, Antonoff focuses on elegant string–heavy and brass–tinged indie–pop melodies from the 80s. The product, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, is a sound that can only be described as his own.
The opening track “91” begins with just a soft cello ostinato, effectively introducing the listener to Antonoff’s relatively carefree childhood moments. When recalling this part of his life, Antonoff remembers isolated events, such as his mother “dancing around” or watching “a war” go on “in ’91.” These experiences as a '90s kid play an important role for him and serve as a nostalgic recollection. As more string instruments join the cello, Antonoff’s memories simultaneously grow more complex and emotional. His once stable teenage years become chaotic once his environment starts to change, including “ripped floorboards” and “blacked out” windows that make his home unfamiliar. Even in his new life in the Big Apple, Antonoff can’t shake off his New Jersey roots, believing that he’s “not home” even though he “can’t leave.”
If “91” showcased Antonoff’s longing for his home state, then “Chinatown” highlights the fond experiences he once had in his hometown that he can’t find anymore. Bruce Springsteen, another New Jersey native, joins Antonoff on this track as they long for the wistful reveries of suburbia. Describing the track as “going from New York City…into New Jersey,” Antonoff fantasizes about a woman he passes by and taking her right “out of the city” and “into the shadow.” A combination of guitars and synths underscores the city’s vibrant and energetic dreamy–pop state, but rather than growing more intense, Antonoff concludes the songs with strings that evoke the feelings of naïve innocence.
On both “91” and “Chinatown,” life in the city tires Antonoff to a point where all he can think of is his time in the Garden State. Rather than digging deeper into this sorrow, Antonoff dreams about what could have been, imagining moments like getting in the backseat and tears in his bed that could “take the sadness out” of a Saturday night.
Continuing the theme of redirected angst and frustration, “Don’t Go Dark” has all the elements of a teen romance movie credit scene track, but its lyrics resemble something closer to a cataclysmic breakup. Bright xylophones, poignant trumpets, and moving drums might paint a sunny scene, but they serve as a background to Antonoff’s clearly irritated voice. This dichotomy perfectly encapsulates the situations Antonoff constantly finds himself in, years of untroubled happiness followed by devastating change. Just like the tumultuous moments in a Saturday night where delight and resentment can collide, Antonoff remembers the moments where his partner cries “on [his] shoulder like a little child” but now fears that they will “go dark on” him. He’s unable to separate these feelings of nostalgia and sadness, building into an apotheosis of feelings that is accompanied by an explosive cacophony of drums and guitar strums.
“Secret Life,” which features Lana Del Rey, is a culmination of the artists’ best qualities: Antonoff’s subdued, mellow production and Lana’s breathy, dream–like vocals. The combination allows for an optimistic point of view as the duo reminisce about an ideal relationship. In the chorus, Antonoff talks about wanting a “secret life” where they can get “bored out of [their] minds.” This is also a reference to the preceding track “Big Life” where Antonoff wants to know “what happens” when they are “bored in love.” Rather than feeling exhausted from love, however, Antonoff yearns for the feeling where it is intertwined with the humdrum of everyday life. The conversation between Antonoff and Lana’s reverbed vocals emphasizes the unmet desires each one has after they’re “sick of chasing all these holy ghosts.”
Although Antonoff is both praised and criticized for his work as a producer, he addresses any possible flaws on Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. Antonoff’s work as a songwriter is magnificent and distinct from that of his collaborators, and his connection to his home state emphasizes this uniqueness. There’s a mix of everything on the album, from the Antonoff–signature catchy yet introspective tunes to reflective ballads. Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night shouldn’t be treated as a side project that attempts to reestablish Antonoff’s credibility; instead, it celebrates, analyzes, and disregards the emotions of a Saturday night in the turbulence of a suburban neighborhood.