Indie pop band fun. formed in mid 2008, but they didn’t reach mainstream recognition until their ubiquitous 2011 chart-topper “We Are Young”. Comprised of Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost, the group released several albums to commercial acclaim before, just a few months ago, they announced their hiatus to work on various side projects. So far, the most successful of these projects is Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers, a vibrant electro-pop group best known for its frenzied 2014 single “I Wanna Get Better”. A complete departure from Nate Ruess’ vocally over-the-top power ballads, Antonoff leaned more towards atmospheric, sound-effect riddled pop with a distinct 80’s flavor. Bleachers’ first album, Strange Desire, was released in the summer of last year and is a lush, beautifully-produced album I would definitely recommend.
In a recent interview with Billboard, however, Antonoff explained that when he writes music, he originally imagines his songs being sung by females before he transposes them into his own voice. The September 28th release of Terrible Thrills Volume 2 is a reimagined version of his debut album, with each song covered by a different female artist. With tracks by Carly Rae Jepsen, Tinashe, and Charli XCX (who he recently toured with), among others, Terrible Thrills is an ambitious and intriguing project, but one that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
The problems begin on the first track, with Sara Bareilles’ cover of “Wild Heart”. She gives a strong performance, but it’s overwhelmed by the seemingly random arrangement of samples and sound effects that permeate the background. The atmosphere of Strange Desire definitely relied heavily on its innovative use of sampling and blending to create the dense harmonies that back up Antonoff’s deep vocals, but through most of Terrible Thrills, his trademark electronics sound jumbled and out of place. The album doesn’t improve much after the first track, unfortunately. With performances by such alternative darlings as Sia and Charli XCX, I expected a more varied interpretation of the album, but the majority of the covers ended up sounding fairly homogeneous and pop-y. The first true stand-out track appears over half way through the album with “Take Me Away”, featuring rapper Brooke Candy and Jack Antonoff’s fashion-designer sister, Rachel. This is the first song that takes Antonoff’s ideas and reinterprets them, adding something new and interesting to the performance. Jack originally collaborated with Grimes on this track, but when the original melodic intro is replaced with Candy’s rap, it elevates the track tremendously. All in all, the second half of the album far exceeds the first, with more excellent performances in MØ’s “You’re Still A Mystery” and Natalie Maines’ “Who I Want You To Love”.
Part of the beauty of Strange Desire was its perfect balance. Antonoff’s deep, clean vocals, paired with the complex, but not overpowering, harmonies created a rich sound that blended beautifully, track after track. Terrible Thrills doesn’t capture the same balance – it’s a very uneven album, with three or four gems hidden among the murk of the other covers. I would still recommend it for the experience: it’s a passion project of Antonoff’s, and it’s worth listening to in order to understand the process by which he writes his music.
Intrigued? Listen to Terrible Thrills Volume 2 for free from Google Play!