Brian Fallon has been keen for some time to emphasise that The Gaslight Anthem’s new album, Get Hurt, is something of a change of direction. While he’s avoided labelling the album as a breakup piece, he’s admitted that his divorce inspired much of the record, which takes a move away from the group’s typical punky tones in favour of a more musing, synth-rock approach.
Unfortunately, something in this shift feels a bit uncomfortable. At their best, The Gaslight Anthem have nostalgic, Springsteen-esque appeal, but they’re a group that have always been on the cusp of being a bit naff, and many of the tracks on Get Hurt fall in to the dad-rock category. While the album’s lyrics reveal a more personal, introspective side, they’re also sometimes just a bit odd. ‘Helter Skeleton’ opens “See, I know a nurse, specialized in the worst / when you’re a friend in need, she’ll be your friend indeed” moving to a chorus of “why don’t you feed on me tonight?” Somehow, the group’s usual tales of melancholic small town scenes are lost amidst Fallon’s outpourings. These outpourings aren’t all bad – in fact, some of them are quite touching – but there’s a frustration in these new tracks that seems misplaced. ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’ has Fallon essentially shouting angry for the first minute of the song. And not in a good way.
Despite this, the album does offer some catchy, anthemic tracks. They’re not mindblowingly inventive, or particularly original, but they’re satisfying, at least. ‘Stay Vicious’ provides a memorable opener, and probably one of the best tracks of the album, but it still feels like something of a tick-box stadium crowd-pleaser. ‘Break Your Heart’ demonstrates a more sombre side to The Gaslight Anthem’s repetoire, and again, is a good track without being amazing. Overall, the album’s a bit like a bowl of muesli: nice enough, but a bit nothingy.
Saying that, I still have hope for another great work from The Gaslight Anthem. I think the problem with Get Hurt is that the group is trying to be or do something that they aren’t and can’t, as if to escape from the comparisons that reviews frequently make to some of America’s rock and roll greats when referring to them. There’s plenty of gusto to be heard on Get Hurt – it just needs to be channelled in a less uncertain way. 2012’s Handwritten was a great album, and with that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that The Gaslight Anthem are best sticking with what they know, because they do what they do very well.