Tom Gabel

Heart Burns EP

Written by: PP on 02/12/2008 00:23:16

Does the name Tom Gabel ring a bell? Perhaps not, but most people reading this site should be reasonably familiar with his main band Against Me! and their politically charged folk punk, which on their latest album was converted into a slightly more suitable form for the mainstream, and what do you know, the band became superstars almost overnight. The record was a controversial one, however, since it was so radically different from the band's previous production, and it was inevitably going to split the fanbase into two separate camps. So will his solo debut EP "Heart Burns" pull back the old fans or mostly appeal to the new fans? Both - sort of.

Those who are missing the medium paced, simple folk-ish riffs of the band's early material and especially its piercing political commentary can look forward to the first track on the EP "Random Hearts", where all this is present. Yet at the same time, it carries some of the same characteristics as "New Wave" did; it's both catchy and radio-friendly despite Gabel's scratchy voice, but maybe that's because his vocal work has always had the quality of making one feel completely at ease. Newer fans, on the other hand, will find the acoustic "Conceptual Paths" resembling the poppier parts of "New Wave", whereas both aforementioned approaches are combined on the folksy "Cowards Sing At Night", that sounds a little bit like Tom Morello on The Nightwatchman. The political message here isn't exactly hidden in subtleties ("Come back home, Johnny / Come back home from being numb / Your war is over" in reference to McCain), but it pushes the right buttons at least for the undersigned. But so far, only the first track has really caught my undivided attention, even though the other two aren't terrible by any means. "Amputations", a track that's best described as classic rock and roll with an Against Me! twist on it, kind of strolls by without making a big effect as well.

But here's where the EP gets a surprise injection of positive energy in the form of "Anna Is A Stool Pigeon", a great example of Mr Gabel's amazing songwriting abilities. The song's catchy as hell, right up there with songs like "White People For Peace" from the latest album. There's some harmonica to give the acoustic song an innocent feel, but then the lyrics arrive: "Eric, Ren and Jensen were activists / They didn't know it but Anna was an FBI informant / Eric fell in love with an FBI informant / Shared his dreams of revolution / Now he's sitting in solitary confinement" - I don't wanna reveal any more but the story to the song is fantastically engaging, even though the fewest of us can relate to the actual events in it.

Unfortunately though, then we're back to the acoustic songs. Yeah, the lyrics are great, and yeah, Gabel's voice is one of the best in the punk community, but it's difficult not to notice that the rest of the band is missing, causing the songs sound much less interesting than if they were non-acoustic. I've never been a big fan of acoustic renditions of bands whose sound I like, so maybe it's just me, but I'd rather have Gabel & co write another Against Me! album instead, despite "Heart Burns" EP being far from a bad release.

Download: Random Hearts, Anna Is A Stool Pigeon
For the fans of: Against Me!, The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello)
Listen: Myspace

Release date 28.10.2008
Sire Records

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