The Gaslight Anthem

Get Hurt

Written by: AP on 03/09/2014 13:29:15

There can be no doubt that The Gaslight Anthem’s progress toward stardom hasn’t left some of the earliest boarders wanting, that raw punk laced sound of their 2007 debut “Sink or Swim” finding less and less opportunity in Brian Fallon, Alex Rosamilia, Alex Levine & Benny Horowitz’s ideas with each album since. The band’s infatuation with the Great American Rock Song, which has deservedly earned them the status as heirs to the legacy of their hometown hero Bruce Springsteen, unfolded with near perfection on the anthemic “Handwritten” in 2012, balancing with supple finesse the misty eyed romanticism of Fallon’s lyricism on days gone by, intricate blues ridden melodies, and a sound capable of enamouring a stadium sized audience. You could be forgiven for fearing their next move to be an even greater step toward arena rock, yet those who saw the band live on their 2013 tour will not have missed the clues speckled in the setlist, with covers of Bon Iver, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots signalling a radical shift for the songs that would eventually become this fifth studio album, “Get Hurt”.

Inspired by his divorce from his wife of 10 years, and influenced by artists whose albums signified career shifts, Fallon told Rolling Stone in May, that the album was going to be ”completely different than anything [they] had ever done before. Instead of going that extra step of just adding some organ or some background vocals, this time [they] actually really changed up a lot of the sounds.” His statement rings true on opening track “Stay Vicious”, which surrenders the crisp tone of old in favour of muddling Fallon & Rosamilia’s guitar sound to a schizophrenic tug-of-war between lo-fi garage and cavernous enormity, and continues to do so on the following “1,000 Years”, the minimalistic approach and bittersweet chorus (”Hey-ey-ey! ‘It’s alright,’ she says. ‘Once upon a time I lived perfect night.’ Hey-ey-ey! ‘In another life,” she says. ‘In a dream of mine from a thousand years ago.'") of which would not sound misplaced on a Kings of Leon record. And indeed, Fallon’s divorce bleeds through every aspect of “Get Hurt” as the melancholy and low key atmosphere that reigns over much of the LP testifies.

So although Fallon openly admits that he ”still [loves] rock’n’roll and [he] still [calls] someone baby” on “Stay Vicious”, it would be wise, thus, to approach “Get Hurt” with an entirely different mindset, keeping in mind the kind of muse that drove Fallon’s deeply personal writing for it. On the heartbreaking title track, the subtlety of Levine’s bass line, Rosamilia’s distant synth keys, Horowitz’s gentle bells, and Fallon’s smoky singing come together as an immaculate reflection of the confusion and lost feeling from needing to let go and start anew that anyone who has gone through a break-up should be able to recognise:

Sometimes I wake up in the morning, sometimes I dream some more. I keep my wounds without a bandage, baby, as I come stumblin’ through the door. Spend my nights in dislocation, talkin’ to spirits on the floor. I think I came to find a feeling, baby, between what was mine and what was yours.

It’s a song unlike anything the ‘Anthem have ever written, and comes with the prerequisite that you must listen to it more than once to grasp its significance and, as me, appreciate it as the strongest track on the album - it wasn’t chosen as the title track by haphazard circumstance. The trouble is that “Get Hurt” still occasionally finds the band uncomfortable with this new style, and unsure whether to sever the ties to their previous work or allow the old habits to persist here as well. As a result, you have songs like “Stray Paper”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Selected Poems” which, while certainly not tragedies, are ill-fitting when it comes to the spine of the album.

One could argue that the decision to include this traditional form of Gaslight Anthem songs, which seem to come so easily to them, is a clever evasive manoeuvre designed to avoid scaring off large portions of the band’s fan base, not to mention contributing diversity. But for an avid fan such as myself, it smells like lack of courage, and missing belief in the strength of this new style to divide “Get Hurt” between a handful of punk peppered tracks and “Handwritten”-era anthems, and the lofty, synth laced balladry of songs like “Helter Skeleton” “Underneath the Ground” and “Red Violins” that, much to my surprise, constitute the best moments the record has to offer. I know at least one member of our staff whose opinion will stand in stark contrast with my own, but the tender and subdued “Underneath the Ground”, which sounds more akin to Fallon and session guitarist Ian Perkin’ project The Horrible Crowes, is one of the most daring and touching songs you’ll have heard by the ‘Anthem, with the final verse in particular leaving a haunting impression with its instantly relatable wondering about residual feelings:

Or would you talk about if I loved her now? Tell my sins to God out loud. Would you cry, cry ‘cause I was gone? Would you spit and hiss and curse my name, and embarrass me to the other graves? Would you lay right down with me, underneath the ground?

…which is why, when the defiant and gravelly “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, which under ordinary circumstances would undoubtedly have emerged as a standout track, arrives immediately in its wake, it leaves a sour taste in my mind, the contrast striking me somehow as too stark even if its purpose is to accentuate the constant shift from angry to sad to angry in the aftermath of a divorce or break-up.

There is potential here, but the execution is still too nervous to deserve the sort of praise I’d readily throw at “The ’59 Sound” and “Handwritten” (both of which would have warranted entirely different reviews from yours truly). And it certainly does no good to the overall impression that the trio of tracks grouped at the concluding end of “Get Hurt” pass by in a mixture of pomposity and cruise control. It might have been more prudent of the ‘Anthem to first test the waters with an EP consisting just of the songs listed below, with the addition of “Stay Vicious” and “1,000 Years” as well for completeness, and then use that as a foundation upon which to build their new sound, rather than mix it all up on an inconsistent full-length.

Download: Get Hurt; Helter Skeleton; Underneath the Ground; Red Violins
For the fans of: Bruce Springsteen, The Horrible Crowes, Kings of Leon, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
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Release date 12.08.2014
Island Records

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