By: Luke Ottenhof –
The Gaslight Anthem seem to have two types of fans: regular fans, who carry a respect and an appreciation for the band and their catalogue, and those who doggedly compare singer Brian Fallon’s every lyric and each of guitarist Alex Rosamilia’s melodies on the fretboard to the twangy, vintage Americana-punk nostalgia sound honed on the 2008 release The ’59 Sound. Despite that 2010’s American Slang and 2012’s ambitious Handwritten, fanboys of The ’59 Sound decried the band’s ever-growing distance from the record, while appreciators of the band found the same passion and excellence in new releases. Six-years down the road, the New Jersey four-piece is releasing their fifth and most adventurous full-length album, with an appropriately cheeky title, Get Hurt.
The band has hyped this album as a complete departure, with Fallon saying they “went off the deep end” experimenting. Bundled up in Nashville at Blackbird Studios, the band worked nearly over seven weeks with producer Mike Crossey on the 12-song LP.
Crossey flexes his production muscles heavily from the start on album opener, “Stay Vicious.” Drummer Benny Horowitz’s barreling snare pounds into the seething, chainsaw-fuzz riffing, recalling the band’s epic grunge droning from the ‘90s. The song flips on a dime into a butterfly gentle chorus, and Fallon’s growl switches to a hushed coo, calling, “As your black heels kick out the beat / Of my heart in perfect time.” The band play with loud-soft dynamics throughout the record, and Crossey’s execution on production ensures that they’re implemented tastefully.
On “1000 Years”, the group forge ahead with one of their catchiest choruses in their catalogue, with Fallon’s gruff delivery invigorating a classic pop cliché. Endless comparisons to Fallon’s side project (the Horrible Crows) haunts the titular slow-burner “Get Hurt”, but the tune carries grit and energy typical of Gaslight. Fallon belts the chorus line “I came to get hurt / Might as well do your worst to me” on top of orchestral guitars and sonar-style pings, edging the song towards emo, without straying into unlistenable territory.
Fallon’s wordplay has certainly changed over the years, and on Get Hurt, the singer structures his lyrics on the road less travelled, filling the record with non-linear, sporadic bursts of heartfelt, confused ramblings. The words still carry weight, and Fallon is still one of the strongest lyricists on the scene, but the abstract style that he’s employed across the album might alienate some. In the past, he’s used clichés and tropes to colour his own words, lending a nostalgic twist to his songs, but occasionally his words teeter on the edge of being clichés themselves. On “Helter Skeleton,” he howls “There will always be a soft spot in my cardiac arrest,” toeing the line between genuine tattoo-material and a terrible Facebook selfie caption, his raw and powerful roar launches the chorus to a final climax.
On the album’s second half, “Break Your Heart” is a shaky misstep that sounds like a B-side from a teen boy-band – certainly not worth including on the record. The acoustic track is elemental for Fallon, but considering the power and emotion of the same formula on Handwritten’s closer “National Anthem,” it’s a hefty letdown. Final song “Dark Places” ends the record on a high note with a subdued intro featuring Fallon’s rough and low desperation, “If I thought it would help, I would drive this car into the sea,” hammering up into anthemic lead bits from Rosamilia that, admittedly, seem like they were cheaply rehashed from 2008’s “The Backseat.” It still works.
It only takes looking at comments on the band’s Facebook page to understand the distinct divide between fans; for every piece of praise directed at the new tunes, there’s a comment longing for Gaslight circa-2008, lamenting their ways. The band is jumping into a new pond with both feet on Get Hurt, committing to a new sound and a new presentation of The Gaslight Anthem. If fans do the same, they’re sure to enjoy a bombastic and radical record. If you’re praying for another ’59 Sound, stop. Your prayers were answered six years ago.
Essential Tracks: “Red Violins,” “Helter Skeleton,” and “Get Hurt”.