Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
That’s the question singer-songwriter-musician-every other stellar hyphen Jack Antonoff asks in Gone Now, his sophomore album as indie pop act Bleachers. From its title—either a definitive bookend to last of the five stages of grief or the marker of a spiraling out post trauma, perhaps both—to its haunting lyrics hidden under infectious, inspired melodies, Gone Now unravels in wide ribbons to expose the raw truth of tragedy and its everlasting effects. At times, it’s uneven and unpredictable. Consistently, it’s heartfelt. Fittingly, it functions much like loss does, and exactly as love does, too.
Gone Now opens on a high, mainlining its two core themes. The anthemic first track, “Dream of Mickey Mantle,” juxtaposes death and dying with lighthearted pop stylings, an oddly satisfying mix that carries over into the quirky “Goodmorning” that positions Antonoff into “the in-between.” Essentially presenting itself as the way the written word of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sounds in song form, “Goodmorning” is whimsically disjointed and disorienting, its core vocals and instrumentation isolated to one ear each. One part Brendan Maclean piano-bashing, one part Ben Folds lyricism, this track is jazzy and jarring in one swift motion.
“Hate That You Know Me” brings that same kind of eccentric electropop to the dinner table, a grand event that’s made unforgettable with the dessert that is “Let’s Get Married.” Sweet and sentimental, if not slightly saccharine, the seventh track on Gone Now swells will gusty proclamations and hearts worn on sleeves.
Between these triumphs, the album takes more overt turns downward, swimming the depths of loss in songs like “I Miss Those Days” and “Goodbye,” which nostalgically lament forever-misplaced innocence and youth. In these pocketed tracks, Antonoff’s work shines as it toes the line between radio-friendly singles and weighty full-album-only cuts.
Where Gone Now finds its biggest strength, however, is in the slight deviation from the black-heart consequences of lost love and into the silver lining working through grief can offer. This pseudo thesis—that a lit tunnel will always emerge in the darkness—is best evidenced in the back-to-back tracks “Don’t Take the Money” and “Everybody Lost Somebody.”
“Everybody Lost Somebody” nudges its listener toward self-reflection not just in its chorus—“I’m standing here in the cold and / I gotta get myself back home soon / Looking like everybody / Knowing everybody lost somebody”—but also in smaller moments like the heart-twisting line in which a desire for the comfort of death, possibly through the oft-made taboo act of suicide, is revealed: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to settle up with heaven / It’s a debt I gotta settle in heaven.” More than that, the song begs for self-insertion in the opening spoken word section; self-ownership in the bridge vocals that acknowledge a sense of loneliness and ‘fess up to the reason for the proverbial gray clouds that loom overhead; and self-confidence in the bridge breakdown that materializes the feeling of making it out of the woods alive. “Come on, motherfucker, you’ll survive / You’ve gotta give yourself a break,” Antonoff pleads of himself. It’s worth a try, right? And if you can’t find the gall to give it a shot in the track’s words (an unlikely possibility), its zizzing saxophone instrumentation will spark an internal self-revolution toward greatness. Or, at the very least, okay-ness.
The layer cake of loss and love gets candles and a birthday wish in “Don’t Take The Money,” a track that explores a disintegrating relationship in retrospect and encapsulates the euphoria a couple experiences after rock-bottoming financially and emotionally and still choosing to remain tethered to one another. The song’s name asks of some unknown partner to avoid cut corners and cut ties, and to reclaim a forgotten feeling not with cash but with care: “Your hand forever’s all I want / Don’t take the money / Don’t take the money.”
It feels like a wind-in-your-hair summer song that begs to be blasted at some sun-drenched outdoor music festival, what with its reverberating chorus, frantic top-line harmonies layered over a tasty repeating riff and steady bass, and lines like “you steal the air out of my lungs / you make me feel it.” But “Don’t Take the Money” is a markedly human song, influenced by The Talking Heads and filled with synth harps and similes reminiscent of ‘80s chart-toppers, an undeniable product of Antonoff’s experiences of acknowledging grief and steadfastly overcoming it, leaving nickels and dimes in his wake. That’s the true heart of Bleachers’ follow-up album.
Gone Now serves to prove true a triple-tiered stack of statements: the three-year gap since Bleachers’ official entry into the music scene was beautifully spent, elation and devastation don’t exist on a binary, and it’s always, always best to choose love—even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts.