Despite Gone Now’s attempts to feel timeless, it feels very much of its time.
There seems to be a point in nearly every artist’s career at which they begin a serious bit of self-reflection and processing of times, places, people and events that served as the building blocks of their adult self. It can be a self-indulgent exercise in deeply personal nostalgia or a borderline transcendent analysis, small in scope but universal in its relatability. Rather than being insular, the latter plays into the larger nostalgic context for a specific demographic, based in shared memories of pop culture, life experiences and, in the case of Jack Antonoff’s latest release as Bleachers, music.
Gone Now, its title an allusion to the backward glances that thematically underscore the whole of the album, finds one of the primary sonic architects behind fun. building a sonic world in which more is more and richly textured arrangements and layers of instrumentation are used to create something grand in scale. It’s wide-screen, Technicolor pop music at its least cloying. To be sure, there are elements of the fun. sound throughout, but Antonoff’s weaker, nasally vocals are a far cry from Nate Ruess’ histrionic yelping and Freddie Mercury fixation, making for a more palatable listening experience.
Given his recent work with the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and Sia, Antonoff’s sound is one clearly aimed at the pop market. Yet he manages to distill accessibility with an interesting array of sounds and heavily orchestrated arrangements that run counter to the simplistic, four-on-the-floor driving beats of many mainstream pop artists. “Everybody Lost Somebody” feels like an unholy marriage of Vampire Weekend and any number of mumbling pop rap artists heavily reliant on electronic beats and a sing-speak that occasionally erupts into a series of strangled yelps. Tempered with saxophones and an interesting structural arrangement, it plays just this side of mainstream approachability.
It’s his ability to tap into the pop market without directly giving in to what’s going on around him musically that has made Antonoff so successful as a songwriter and producer for others. In as much, his individual aesthetic has begun to creep into the mainstream through not only his work with fun. but also his collaborative efforts (most notably on Taylor Swift’s 1989), reshaping the face of the mainstream through sheer individualistic will. Having consumed a steady diet of pop music along the way, Antonoff seems to have managed to distill the most appealing elements of the past 30-plus years of hits into a tried and true formula for success.
Of course, it’s one thing to hear all of these elements come together on an individual song book-ended by decidedly lesser works by other contemporary pop stars, but to tackle a full album’s worth is somewhat exhausting. Relying on a predictably over-the-top approach to the whole of Gone Now, subtlety is an element not in Antonoff’s current pop vocabulary. Indeed, the closest he comes is on the auto-tuned, ‘90s R&B-indebted “Goodbye,” a smooth jam of sorts that gets by on a shuffling electronic beat and faux soul harmonies that never really build to much of anything. It’s one of the few moments on the album that doesn’t feel claustrophobia-inducing in its overstuffed production.
“I Miss Those Days” is the most blatant tie-in to the title’s wistful nostalgia, Antonoff pining for lost friends, simpler times and the wide-eyed idealism of youth. Taking this idea to the extreme, Antonoff had a replica of his childhood bedroom constructed for the supporting tour, hammering home the point that this is a work rooted in a very specific time and place. The trouble with this is the potential to become thematically boxed in to the point of creative stasis. To avoid this, Antonoff seems to have instead opted for an approach in which the overarching theme is only tangentially related from a lyrical standpoint, relying more on instrumentation rooted in grandiose ‘80s synth-pop, ‘90s introspection and early-‘00s R&B. It’s an amalgamation that swings for the fences while also appealing to the lowest common denominator. Sure Gone Now sounds pleasant enough, but further listens reveal an emptiness that often accompanies a full immersion into personal nostalgia.
On the whole, Gone Now is clearly teed up to be Antonoff’s grand statement of purpose, an album so loaded with ideas and over-the-top arrangements that it simply can’t be ignored. The trouble with this approach, however, is that the album and its content ultimately prove to be far more style than substance, a sleight of hand that wills itself to profundity through its own grandiosity. Make no mistake, Antonoff is a wildly talented tunesmith and producer. He’s only all too willing to show this off at each and every opportunity. Because of this, Gone Now feels like the embodiment of the unquestioning and indisputable self-importance that has come to be the hallmark of millennials. In this, Gone Now, despite its attempts to feel timeless, instead feels very much of its time.