Saturday, December 5th, 2020

Bleachers ft. Bruce Springsteen – Chinatown

I sometimes feel like Jack Antonoff is in charge of all music and probably needs a nickname.. you know, something affectionate to indicate that he’s in charge, or supervises other people. But I’m out of ideas. Oh wait.


Vikram Joseph: The top-rated comment under the video for “Chinatown” simply reads, “Jack Antonoff wakes up everyday and chooses nostalgia.” And where’s the lie? It’s been a deep, rich vein for him both in his prolific pop production and also in his work with Bleachers. In the latter, he’s struggled at times to locate the distinctive personality that he’s stamped on so many other artists’ records, so he tries to overcome this in the best way he knows — by piling the nostalgia even higher. Antonoff’s never been coy about his influences, and short-circuits any opprobium regarding his debt to heartland rock by inviting Bruce Springsteen himself to join him, which is basically a big sign saying “YEAH AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?”. Antonoff’s relentless dedication to Total Nostalgia allows him to sell tropes like “sitting on the front stoop, crying out the crazy”, and Springsteen gives it everything he’s got in support. “Chinatown” turns these tropes into something profoundly likeable, with thick, warm pillows of acoustic guitars and a big, yearning synth line pushing it forward into a blazing orange sunset. The chorus hook declares, “I wanna find tomorrow”; maybe we can only get there by looking back?

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Once again Jack Antonoff tries to trick me into thinking something is profound and nostalgic when really it is just slow and twinkly. Once again Bruce Springsteen tries to make New Jersey into a grand romantic idea. Once again I am perhaps too cynically Californian to appreciate it as anything but wallpaper. Even then they’re too shouty. Oh well!

Thomas Inskeep: Jack Antonoff’s vocal here sounds unnervingly like the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, which makes it all the more jarring-slash-perfect when THE BOSS shows up to lay in some guest vox for this “Jersey girl” kinda song, which is the best thing Antonoff has ever released.

Oliver Maier: Bleary-eyed, Antonoff and here-because-why-not Springsteen plod around the city at night in search of a meaningful image or a respectable synth preset. There’s a kind of dreamlike logic at work here, fragmented lyrics colliding without purpose, gesturing towards a sense of monumental yearning but never a coherent narrative. Most of these ideas feel half-remembered from elsewhere: the Blue Nile’s synth-speckled urban melancholy, the escapist impulse of Springsteen’s own back-catalogue, Bowie’s tedious orientalism, to name a few. Factor in Antonoff’s limited talents as a singer or songwriter and one is left with precious little to commend about “Chinatown”, a song which — also like many of my dreams — feels sluggish and absolutely interminable.

Tobi Tella: The simple, pure, New Jersey resident part of my brain wants to take this as a warm hug of nostalgia; the video even made me nostalgic for things everyone hates, like the turnpike! But it’s hard to view Antonoff in a vacuum in 2020; after becoming a It Boy and producing a lot of genuinely great albums, I can’t help but find this a little pedestrian. There are some good quotables for sure, but a Boss feature doesn’t mean this has to sound as limp and mass-appealing as his recent output.

Nortey Dowuona: Bleachers is back in this motherfucking house. These swallow guitars and glitterati synths soar over the waterlogged drums and thrashing bass, while Jack and Bruce look across the seat of the car into each others eyes with a joyous, willful abandon. The car begins to lift off the tar road and onto the moon, a gleeful smile spreading on Jack’s face as he watches his old hero smile for the last time as they reenter the atmosphere. They embrace in a kiss, as Bruce smiles and turns to ashes, entering the car and flying Jack back home to Jersey, tears trickling down Jack’s face.

Aaron Bergstrom: Jack Antonoff was born in Bergenfield, New Jersey, which New Jersey Monthly once ranked as the 231st best place to live in the state. Still, you don’t get to choose your hometown, and, as Antonoff explains it, “Chinatown” was born out of an effort to reconcile the man he is now with the place he came from. The result is captivating, a sweeping, widescreen rumination built on echoing nostalgia and longing, broadcast over a distance that can never be covered. It’s the realization that you can’t find tomorrow without finding yesterday first, and that running doesn’t always have to mean running away. And, of course, it features guest vocals from the living embodiment of the place in question, which is a nice get, and an important endorsement for Antonoff in the inevitable succession battle for the King of Jersey Rock Dudes throne. I’ll check the bylaws, but I’m fairly sure he now has to fight Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem to the death.

Alex Clifton: I’d find this interesting if the reverb didn’t make all the lyrics sound l    ii    kk      e        t    hh    ii    sssss         innnn         com ppppppreeeee      heeee nnn   sssssss       ii       bbbbbbbbblllll

John Seroff: The issue I take with Antonoff’s pop-rock formalism is that I didn’t even need to listen to this song to know what it sounded like, right down to the worshipful Springsteen vocal deference in the back half segueing into a big, gloppy, sentimental victory lap. There’s nostalgia, there’s pastiche, and then there’s boring.

Kayla Beardslee: Many album eras in the last few years have forced us to pay attention to Jack Antonoff, whether we like it or not. Personally, I don’t have anything against his work, but I get the sense that a specific subset of the internet may be decidedly Not Here for a new Bleachers era. With that said, if Antonoff wants to use his personal project to release music about being from New Jersey — sure! I’m not going to object to that. Bleachers is a solo project for a reason, and everyone draws from specific personal experiences to make their art. When it comes to the actual song, though, it’s a little disappointing: I wish the vocals weren’t so drenched in reverb, because it makes the track feel distant and forgettable.

Jibril Yassin: A paean to chasing futures that feels closer to chasing after dredges and rooted in nowhere particular. There are so many lyrical platitudes and phrases that struggle to rise above the midrange soup of feeling — not even an inspired Bruce Springsteen cameo can lift this into the rarefied air it so desperately seeks. Can we get Springsteen to do a song like this with the Washed Out guy, instead? 

William John: Perhaps a 2020 Springsteen wouldn’t be able to handle a song with as much exuberance and chutzpah as “Want You In My Room.” Still, it might’ve been more fun to see him try than to have him cosplay as Geodude over this lumbering track. A hand-wringing thought: have the Arcade Fire ever considered putting in a call to Antonoff?

Alfred Soto: Shoegaze? More like shoehaze. Nostalgia for this sort of thing won’t diminish so long as boys dream of effects pedals and girlfriends who look like Jim Reid. What Springsteen’s doing here is anybody’s guess, possibly because he spent too many years mythologizing girls. For him, Bleachers, and Dan Bejar, “Chinatown” means a place whose citizens take this twaddle seriously.

Reader average: [7] (4 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

12 Responses to “Bleachers ft. Bruce Springsteen – Chinatown”

  1. This is an absolutely joyous set of blurbs, beautifully written and I laughed out loud at Alex’s blurb and the Brian Fallon death match idea.

    Must be a contender for the most divisive song we’ve covered this year, too?


  3. My first blurb! This is a big moment for me, hi everyone!

  4. Welcome Aaron!! Brilliant blurb to begin with :)

  5. Welcome Aaron!! Good to have you here!!

  6. also why do people keep romanticizing chinatown, chinatown is for cheap frozen food, bootleg cds, homeopathic medicine, and haircuts

  7. Welcome Aaron!! Loved your blurb!

  8. welcome aaron!! really appreciated your blurb going deep on new jersey

  9. Thanks for the warm welcome everyone, excited to be here! (And excited to be making my debut on a song with some controversy – the divisive posts are usually the most interesting.)

  10. @Michael as someone who lives in a city without many a place for all those specific things I feel like it’s 100% worth romanticizing for those reasons

  11. Welcome, Aaron!

  12. My local Chinatown is basically a place to eat delicious but slightly overpriced dumplings and doesn’t seem to have a lot else in it, and these days dumplings are one of the few things in life I feel romantic about so.