For a couple days now I’ve been struggling with the new Gaslight Anthem album, Get Hurt.
Do I like it?
Do I love it?
Do I maybe just kind of like it?
Do I not really like it?
Does not liking it have me rethinking whether or not I actually like the band or not?
Do I even like Gaslight Anthem?
If I do, then why?
If I don’t, then why?
What exactly is a Gaslight Anthem?
Now on one hand, any form of art that sets ablaze a flurry of questions should be considered a good thing. Art should make you question things. Although I’m not sure some of those questions should involve whether or not you like the artist or not. Or maybe those questions are expected. I don’t effin’ know. Gaslight Anthem has me all turned up inside.
So let’s back it up a bit.
Like I’m assuming a lot of people who consider themselves fans of Gaslight Anthem, my introduction to them was via their 2008 album, The ’59 Sound. That there- that’s a fun record. It’s the kind of rock ‘n roll that makes you want to drink beer, drive fast, wear jeans and play air guitar. Prior to listening to them, I really only knew of them as the pop/punk version of Bruce Springsteen. God knows where I heard that, but I did. Of course the label wasn’t all that far-fetched. Lead singer Brian Fallon does kind of sound like the Boss and Gaslight Anthem are from New Jersey. That seems to be where the similarities end though. You could argue that Fallon’s lyrics- his attempt at Americana story-telling is Springsteen-like. But singers and songwriters have been writing tunes comprised of tales from the American landscape long before Springsteen and will be doing so long after Springsteen. You write what you know and it just so happens that Springsteen and Fallon know the same things and whether or not this is due to geographical similarities doesn’t really matter that much. New Jersey is one of the most densely-populated states in the country. Two dudes who kind of sound the same was bound to happen. Let’s get over it.
Gaslight’s next release was 2012’s Handwritten, which is a good record. It’s not ‘The 59 Sound, although at times it’s close. There’s some good songs on there- “45” and “Howl” especially are two really good rock ‘n roll songs. The rest of the album doesn’t sound as inspired as ‘The 59 Sound but if you were a fan of the band, it got the job done. When it came out, I thought it might be the album that elevates the band nationally, with “45” kicking the doors open that needed to be done so for the band to better known outside of the Garden State. Didn’t seem to happen, though.
It’s through that mind set, through the prism of failed expectations, that an album like Get Hurt might make sense. This is because Get Hurt is serious rock album and it also sounds like a reaction album. I don’t know how the band feels about Handwritten, but this is the Internet and the Internet is where speculation lives and prospers so via speculation I’m going to assume that the band felt that they needed to step it up when it came time to record a follow up album. They needed to have less uptempo rockers and more mid-tempo, plodding rock songs- songs you could really sink your teeth into as opposed to guzzle down. They would still strive for anthems, but the anthems would be of a different nature- less defiant and more heart felt. Get Hurt is by no means a bad record. It’s just a slightly different one. If your best version of Gaslight Anthem is the Gaslight Anthem from ‘The 59 Sound, you might feel somewhat luke warm about it. But if your best version of Gaslight Anthem is Gaslight themselves, then I’d imagine you’re pretty cool with this new album.
And why shouldn’t you be? Sure the sound is slightly different, evolved is a little bit of a reach, but maybe more mature is a better descriptor, but all the hallmarks of a good Gaslight Anthem are there. Fallon still has that grizzly howl and the rest of the band- the rest of the band is fine- more auto mechanics than scientists. They get the job done.
Gaslight has always felt and seemed like a vessel driven and maintained by Fallon, for better or worse. Some of his lyrics are cringe-worthy, some are fun. He does sound like he’s trying to be more personal on this album. There aren’t as many stories about gals listening to Elvis and dudes on the highway. He goes more first person with his lyrics on Get Hurt. Maybe that drove the slight change in sound for the band? Maybe Fallon’s lyrics almost demanded a course correction? Whatever the reason, and I’m sure there’s a couple, I’m going to say that with Get Hurt, if there’s a New Jersey rocker out there that Gaslight should be compared to, I’d say it’d be Bon Jovi and not Springsteen. This is a big rock album, more akin to a fake cowboy as opposed to a fake gas station attendant. I’m not saying Springsteen isn’t prone to rock largesse. He can go as big as Bon Jovi. It’s just that each one’s version of big is different than the others. With Get Hurt, Gaslight has drifted more towards Bon Jovi than Springsteen.
Sixteen songs seems excessive. I don’t think a band like Gaslight Anthem really needs to venture beyond the twelve song mark. But on this album, they do. As a result, some of the songs from around track eight to track fourteen tend to blend together. It’s not until the last two songs start that the album circles back around and becomes more distinct. And then the last song, well on the last tune Gaslight are going to bring it on home and bring you to church. Again, for better or worse. By the time you’ve reached the song, you really feel like you’ve done some work and embarked on a hell of a little day trip. The album opens so strongly with “Stay Vicious” that it is pretty remarkable that it ends in such a different place, albeit one that still manages to make sense within the confines of Get Hurt.
I applaud effort here. The band seemed to want to go big on this record and go big they did.
Now is it for the best? I don’t know that yet. I know that at this point, none of the songs have stuck with me like some of the songs on ‘The 59 Sound and Handwritten, but that could change. Get Hurt could very easily be one of those albums that grows on you and becomes better over time.
Until then, I’ll stick with ‘The 59 Sound.
But I won’t forget about this one.
Not yet at least.