'Terrible Thrills, Vol 2' offers new take on Bleachers album
Bleachers’ Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is a reimagining of the band’s debut album consisting of the same 11 songs, written by frontman Jack Antonoff, performed by an array of established singers and up-and-comers. I had the pleasure of seeing Bleachers live this past summer: I concluded that though their record is OK, but their live performances are extraordinary. However, Vol. 2 offers a fresh perspective on their original LP, Strange Desire.
The album maintains the strength of its predecessor, with covers by Sara Bareilles, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen and Tinashe. Bareilles’s rendition of “Wild Heart” deviates from the original with its heavy production, but it contrasts with the still-smooth delivery, and the lyrics hold the track steady in a fashion that wasn’t present in the original. Conversely, Charli XCX’s growling delivery on “Rollercoaster” matches the instrumental tones point for point — it’s actually hard to believe the track isn’t solely hers. “Shadow” maintains its uplifting aura, and with its slight push towards bubblegum pop and Carly Rae Jepsen on vocals, the cover highlights Antonoff’s lyricism. The lead single from Strange Desire, “I Wanna Get Better,” can’t exactly get better; nonetheless, it can get different — which is precisely why the genre shift from Bleachers’ pop-rock to Tinashe’s smooth R&B doesn’t have listeners switching back to the original. And while her slight note changes offer the same range as Antonoff’s screams, it’s just not as much fun to sing along to.
The second act contains some of the most memorable moments on Strange Desire, and by way of the up-and-comers, the recreations only improve upon their predecessors. “Wake Me” is the record’s biggest surprise. On the original, it’s a typical ‘lighter in the air’ track, but in the hands of Lucius, a five-piece indie-pop band, the track achieves the conversational tone it was always meant for. The band's harmonization pushes the track in a direction that Antonoff can’t quite get to on his own. Conversely, Elle King could sing the dictionary and it would be a melody so beautiful, nothing seems to matter more than the music. “Reckless Love” is a slow burn: you sing along to it, but you don’t move to it. The softness of her delivery feels innocent, juxtaposed with the fiery crescendo making this love feel all the more reckless. For the album’s plateau, Brooke Candy and Rachel Antonoff team up for an unrecognizable cover of “Take Me Away.” The only consistency with the original is the ephemeral hook: “I know you're sorry, I know you're sorry, I know you're sorry.” In the end, it’s a somewhat forgettable cover of a somewhat forgettable song.
And as for the third-act comeback, the star-power is back. Sia takes on the melancholic “Like a River Runs.” Instead of resting on the chill-inducing a capella chorus, she creates a track that delivers the same degree of emotion, but sounds completely dissimilar. Sia’s take is a gospel while Antonoff’s is a rock show. MØ, best known for her feature with Major Lazer, breathes excitement back into the project with “You’re Still a Mystery.” Between a saxophone solo, MØ’s tinge of auto-tune and the song’s ’70s movie feel, the track stands out on Vol. 2. Finally, Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) offers an acoustic, slightly country “Who I Want You to Love” to close the album. While the acoustic guitar and Maines’ echoed delivery pull listeners in one direction, the lengthy instrumental break paired with Antonoff’s outro remind them that this is still a Bleachers record.
From the outset, releasing an album of covers can be a tricky game. The covers can’t completely overwhelm the original work, but they also can’t underperform, or else there’s no point in producing them. This is exactly why Strange Desire works so well for this artistic experiment. Vol. 2 highlights the strengths in Antonoff’s lyricism by displaying them through a different lens — one that isn’t generally better or worse than the original — just different.