Jack Antonoff seems like all of the amiable, sentimental straight boys I was acquainted with in high school. The kind of guy you only spoke to a few times in your senior year, as part of a group, hovering in conversation at the edge of someone's pool. He wore toques. He played in a band. You knew his girlfriend better than you knew him and you inevitably listened when she talked earnestly about how you wouldn't know it, because he was kind of goofy, but he was so, like, sensitive. And it made her feel kind of bad, but he definitely loved her more than she loved him. Then she'd laugh, a little guilty, not really.
Sentimentality, sensitivity, to a neurotic degree, have a lot to do with Strange Desire
, the first solo album from the musician better known as the guitarist for fun., and as boyfriend to Lena Dunham. It's an album that is all grandio-romance, longing white boy heartsick agony, intoned over 80s stadium-synth, muddled and cut with contemporary influences, delays and samples. It's a sound that harkens back to most the Jon Hughes movies Antonoff cites as a reference. He'd certainly have been hard-pressed to choose a title for his solo project — Bleachers — more evocative of those films than the same aluminum seating that frames Judd Nelson as he punches the air, victorious in love, at the end of The Breakfast Club.
What Strange Desire
does best is sound like fun., peaking as it does with its most colossal tracks, power ballads, songs like the appreciably confessional "I Wanna Get Better," or the profoundly eighties "Rollercoaster." Its other content is questionable at best. "Reckless Love" sounds dangerously like an Imagine Dragons track, with its dubbed-up acoustic guitar. But Strange Desire
's greatest, most baffling offenses are probably the guest appearances by Grimes and Yoko Ono. Both women are grossly misused. "Take Me Away" sounds like Antonoff's pandering attempt at emulating Grimes' formula of two-parts discordance and three-parts melancholy pop. "I'm Ready to Move On" reaches hard for Ono-eclectic electronica. Both fall flat, even as the latter boils over in its last minutes, regurgitating lyrical content and rhythms from the preceding nine tracks.
is a big-sounding album. Big-sounding is what Antonoff seems to do best. But bigness gets exhausting, and when I listen to this album I feel saturated with it. And bigness doesn't leave room for subtlety, something that, despite his professed disinterest in the idea
— "I want to listen to stuff that makes me cry or have some kind of huge emotion" — has its place in the spectrum of expression.
is available via iTunes
. Watch the video for "I Wanna Get Better" below.