Bleachers – Rollercoaster
Most discerning pop fans understand that when a member of a popular band announces that he or she is taking a temporary hiatus from the group to work on a “side project,” it is reason for concern. Pop history books are littered with the detritus of such spin-offs, these attempts by an artist to explore a different “creative” side that his or her band mates might not sanction or tolerate under normal group recording circumstances. Sometimes the dreaded side project might take the form of a “super group” (see Arcadia, the Traveling Wilburys, the Power Station) comprised of slumming band members or solo artists recording mediocre singles (Election Day, Handle With Care, Some Like it Hot) for maximum audience exploitation. Or it might be a misguided attempt at a solo career that bombs so badly either commercially or artistically that it sends said musician scurrying back to his or her main band, tail between legs (Freddie Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy’s Soul Punk, every Mick Jagger solo album).
Every now and again, however, the side project can result in something wonderful – a new musical path for the musician that proves delightful and unexpected for the audience. The best of these – including but not limited to Electronic (comprised of Bernard Sumner from New Order and Johnny Marr from The Smiths), the Tom Tom Club (Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads) and Gorillaz (Damon Albarn of Blur) – arguably match or surpass the musical output of the bands from which they originated. A recent addition to this list of superior spin-offs? Bleachers, the side project from Jack Antonoff of the band fun.
When fun. broke through in 2012 and scored worldwide hits with We Are Young and Some Nights, most of the focus on the band centered around its charismatic lead singer Nate Ruess and his amazing multi-octave vocals. The band’s other secret weapon, however, was its lead guitarist and alternate vocalist Jack Antonoff. He joined fun. from his former band Steel Train, where he was its lead singer. In his new group, Anotonoff was content to let Ruess take the vocal lead and be the group’s de facto front man. But when the band went on hiatus in 2013, Anotonoff’s prowess and skills as a songwriter and lead musician began to reveal themselves to the public. He co-wrote the brilliant How Come You Don’t Want Me with pop twins Tegan and Sara and then helped compose Sara Bareilles’ huge hit Brave (later arguably re-recorded by Katy Perry as Roar). This was followed by his even more successful collaboration with Taylor Swift, which resulted in his co-writing and co-producing her hits Sweeter Than Fiction and Out of the Woods as well as several other tracks on her incredibly successful 1989 album.
Most of Anotonoff’s focus at this time, however, was on his side project Bleachers, which released its first album Strange Desire in July 2014. Whereas fun.’s music focuses on the dramatic and grandiose, the Bleachers album is actually more lighthearted and, er, fun. The album is a power pop marvel, and includes a host of distinguished collaborators, including Greg Kurstin, Vince Clarke, and Yoko Ono (!) The first single from the album, I Wanna Get Better, topped the US alternative charts and served as a splashy debut for the project. But it is the album’s third single, Rollercoaster, that is its creative highpoint.
A fabulous and frenetic 3:30 jolt of beautiful pop caffeine, Rollercoaster is one of those songs that gets better upon repeat listenings. The song, like its titular amusement park attraction, starts out fast and never lets up, taking the listener on a glorious and thrilling ride full of pop harmonies and percussive and joyful instrumentation. One reviewer called it a “brilliant summer anthem,” and I would agree, placing it up there in the summer song hall of fame right next to Belinda Carlisle’s Mad About You. Like the best summer songs, the video of course features a hot blonde model in a convertible (as well as what appears to be a souped up food truck that apparently serves no real food, only spin-off band members.)
Rollercoaster hit no.3 on the US alternative charts in the fall of 2014 and continues to be a rock radio favorite in the States. In the UK, however, the huge success of fun. did not rub off on Bleachers, where the group has failed to make the charts with either its album or any of its singles, including Rollercoaster. This is a shame, because the group deserves to be recognized as a side project that more than justifies its existence apart from and as a compliment to its precursor band.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? This is clearly is in One Direction’s wheelhouse, and they would do a marvelous job with it, should they ever come back.