The Gaslight Anthem, Get Hurt

Annie Zaleski

By Annie Zaleski

on 08.12.14 in Reviews

Although the Gaslight Anthem are often seen as acolytes of and heirs to Bruce Springsteen, their career trajectory has far more in common with another one of their major influences: Pearl Jam. Besides the surface parallels — classic rock-tinted riffing, the ragged timbre of Brian Fallon’s nicotine-worn vocals, sensitive lyrics from a distinctly masculine perspective — neither band is overly nostalgic for the music they’ve made in the past. They have both subtly evolved from album to album, accumulating new influences without losing sight of their fundamental appeal.

A challenging listen that tries too hard to force an evolution

In the Gaslight Anthem’s case, this appeal has historically revolved around gruff anthems that balance punk’s velocity, a folk storyteller’s eye for detail and a compulsion toward sweeping rock ‘n’ roll transcendence. However, the band’s new LP, Get Hurt, is a challenging listen. Working with producer Mike Crossey (Jake Bugg, the 1975, Arctic Monkeys), the band alternates between straightforward rock ‘n’ roll and the amorphous, dark folk favored by Fallon’s side project, Horrible Crowes. “Stay Vicious” boasts stinging drums and razor-blade-metallic guitars; “1,000 Years” is a polished version of the band’s classic spin on Springsteen’s loose-limbed dive bar barnstorming; the rickety, harmonica-abetted “Mama’s Boy” resembles a rootsy porch jam; and “Dark Places” is a crusty holler that wouldn’t sound out of place on Pearl Jam’s No Code.

The problem with Get Hurt is how little musical nuance these songs have; Sharon Jones’s backing harmonies on the string-augmented highlight “Stray Paper” are lost amid aggressive riffs and harsh rhythms. Even 2012′s Handwritten — which was produced by rock-radio Svengali Brendan O’Brien — allowed some breathing room. Get Hurt‘s details, meanwhile, only surface in fits and starts; “Underneath the Ground” is cushioned by a burbling Fender Rhodes melody, while the subdued “Halloween” is a dead ringer for the National’s ornate, velvet-gloved indie rock.

Get Hurt

The Gaslight Anthem

What’s even more frustrating is that the record features some of Fallon’s most sophisticated and vibrant lyrics yet — personal vignettes with meticulously arranged phrasing and clever wordplay. “Sweet Morphine” has allusions to Greek mythology and enduring emotional stingers (“There are three things never satisfied/ The grave, your heart and mine”), while “Ain’t That a Shame” is a brutally honest breakup song full of self-recrimination (“My poisonous fingers inside your veins, they gonna get you someday/ Now ain’t that a shame?”).

Fallon has admitted in recent interviews that he studied bands who executed serious (and drastic) musical transformations before making this record. But instead of sounding like an effortless logical progression, Get Hurt sounds like a record made by a band working so hard to force an evolution, and they’ve also abandoned too many of the qualities that made them great in the first place.