Review Summary: "...And maybe you were not the same."
Upon first listen, Get Hurt
barely feels like a Gaslight Anthem record. Sure, Brian Fallon’s unique, Springsteenesque vocals are still as distinct as ever, and there’s no mistaking the fact that it’s definitely him standing behind the microphone, pouring emotion into every word that comes out of his mouth. However, at other points in the album, including the post-grunge tinged opener “Stay Vicious” and the stripped-down ”Underneath the Ground”, I’m stuck scratching my head, pondering the ramifications of such a release. All I can do is sit and wonder, “Is this really the same Gaslight Anthem that I’ve known and loved for the last few years?”
The answer to my question is, undoubtedly, a stern ‘no’. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier last month, frontman Fallon stated that they were switching gears with Get Hurt
. “We wanted to see where else we could go with the band. We thought it was time to change things up a bit,” he declared, and he couldn’t have been anymore accurate. The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth studio album sees the New Jersey-based quartet mature sonically, experimenting with different musical styles outside of the Springsteen-cum-Americana punk that they’re recognizable for. It takes multiple listens to truly realize the extent of their direction. The aforementioned “Stay Vicious” has Fallon singing in a rather gruff tone, using his lower register to produce a much more deeper voice than the one he’s known for over a heavy, brooding riff that establishes the track is one of the band’s most guitar-driven songs. Even though it starts off sounding like a generic post-grunge tune (then again, the album was influenced by Pearl Jam’s No Code
), it morphs into something slightly more indie-like. On the other end of the spectrum, “Break Your Heart” puts the electric away and is built primarily on acoustic strumming. Fallon’s forlorn vocals leave a mark emotionally as he tells his tale of melancholy and sadness through weaving guitar and heartbroken singing.
With that said, not all of it works well. Even though “Stay Vicious” isn’t horrible, it’s a lackluster opener that is missing a certain ‘kick’ to it. They’ve always had something energetic and memorable to kick off albums – “45” and “Great Expectations” are proof enough, so a slow crooner starting things off is a little different. “Underneath the Ground” lacks a spark, and meaninglessly drags on for four minutes as Fallon tries to juggle between his best Matt Berninger impression and blandly singing over some vaguely indie-ish instrumentation. For what it’s worth, the title track does it better, slowly building over a primarily drum-driven beat as he emotionally cries, “I came to get hurt / Might as well do your worst to me”. It picks up the most following the powerful bridge, and all the feelings felt are just a by-product of such a moving song that no one would have predicted being by the same band that made “The Patient Ferris Wheel” seven years ago.
Of course, The Gaslight Anthem haven’t completely abandoned their original sound. Tracks like “1,000 Years” and “Helter Skeleton” are still filled with the raucous punk spirit that they’re known for, and could fit in on any album prior to this. The former is just pretty damn anthemic, featuring Fallon’s inevitable thunderous roarings of “yeah, yeah, yeah”, while the latter is just a fun three-minute romp that screams classic Gaslight Anthem. Its quiet-loud dynamic with boisterous verses and a more subdued chorus works wonders, and it’s just such an energetic track with tons of personality and life. Some attempts at bringing back their classic sound don’t necessarily go too well; “Stray Paper” seems like a Handwritten
B-side , while the verses to “Red Violins” are absolutely snooze-inducing, not to mention the first minute of “Selected Poems” pales in comparison to the rest of it, including a neat little guitar solo.
It takes multiple listens to truly appreciate the direction The Gaslight Anthem took on Get Hurt
. Sure, not of all it works out, and there are a couple of duds, but for the most part the transition works somewhat well. Even if the punk and riff-driven side of them aren’t on full display, there’s still plenty of moments with rocking guitar and charismatic vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on Handwritten
. Lyrically, the album focus more on reflection – lines like “Come visit me on the 99th floor of apathy”, “I’ve grown to learn that everything has chains” and “Once upon a time, I lived a perfect life” are relatively deeper than those of the past. While the album’s highlights such as “Helter Skeleton”, “Break Your Heart”, “Dark Places”, “1,000 Years” and “Get Hurt” are spread across various styles that The Gaslight Anthem incorporate into their sound, it’s a testament to Get Hurt
’s versatility and musical exploration. While it may come off as their worst release, I prefer looking at it as their ‘least best’. Sure, some will say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and point to this album as an example. Maybe some things they stay, and some things go away, but for what it’s worth, The Gaslight Anthem still haven’t slipped.