By 2014 Jack Antonoff had already established himself as a successful musician. He’d been in two successful bands to date; Steel Train, of which he fronted, and fun, where he gained his guitar-playing abilities; he’d also worked with a number of different artists such as Sara Bareilles, Tegan and Sara, and most notably Taylor Swift on songs such as “Out of the Woods” and “Sweeter than Fiction.”
RCA Records; 2014
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The middle of that year saw the release of Strange Desire, the debut album from Antonoff’s solo project, of which he vehemently declared “is not a side project.” Supported by numerous guest performances from Andrew Dost (fun.), Sara Quinn (Tegan and Sara), Yoko Ono, Grimes, and several of Antonoff’s close family and friends; as well as popular producer John Hill (Florence + the Machine, Eminem, P!nk, Rihanna)
Strange Desires is a triumphant and explosive indie rock album filled to the brim with Pop Punk riffs laced over 80’s synth and raw emotional lyrics that are often anecdotal of Antonoff’s personal life. Singles such as “Rollercoaster,” “Shadow” and “I Wanna Get Better” decorated Alt-Rock and Indie radio stations for much of 2014.
“I Wanna Get Better” is a towering masterpiece that details significant moments in Antonoff’s life; in an interview Antonoff referenced a period around the time of the events of 9/11– 2 months after the tragic event, he lost his 13 year old sister to brain cancer, followed 2 months after by the loss of his cousin, a soldier touring in Iraq. The pivotal moment came to a climax when he took acid for the first time, and everything unravelled, leaving him unable to leave the house for a 6 month period , “I panicked at the Acid Test.” As Antonoff stated in the same interview “I Wanna Get Better” is about the desire to improve life and make yourself better.
Antonoff repeatedly bellows “I Wanna Get Better” while energetically powerful instrumentation blares in the background, nearly drowning out his vocals. Intersecting the centerpoint of the track is the only guitar solo on the album, but the stylistic, heavily distorted buzz more than makes up for that fact. Themes of death and depression repeatedly echo in the lyricism, “I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet.”
The latter portion of Strange Desires appears to fall short of the same intensity. Where the first four tracks are energetic and riveting, the rest of Strange Desire is lethargic by comparison. “I’m Ready to Move On” is Yoko Ono’s singular appearance on the album, and is a strange attempt at artistic flavour that doesn’t quite achieve what it aims to do, however Grimes’ “Take Me Away” is a redeeming and original electronic mix.
The first four tracks are delivered with such massive force that could fairly nearly skyrocket Strange Desire to the ranks of a truly great album. One song after another is delivered with perfect accuracy, yet momentum is rapidly lost with tracks like “I’m Ready to Move On”, which is bizarre and unfitting. Still, Antonoff delivers a magnificent album that touches on real-life issues like relationships and depression. This album can’t be recommended enough, as its faults are more than made up for with qualities.