As much as I love The Gaslight Anthem, I can’t quite get over the feeling that they were carefully designed as the ultimate guilty pleasure for guys like me. It’s not that they are bad, but their particular brand of nostalgic longing for a mythical golden age of Americana appeals directly to the tragically romantic part of me that I’d rather not admit exists. Brian Fallon’s tales of dime store Casanovas, broken-hearted dames and small town heartbreakers have always walked a fine line between touching and overwrought while managing to cast aside any trace of irony or cynicism with their heart-on-the-sleeve earnestness, but on ‘Get Hurt’ the band finally lapses into the disappointingly cheesy territory that they have always threatened.
This is especially disappointing given that their last record, 2012’s ‘Handwritten’, was a stellar return to form after 2010’s lacklustre ‘American Slang’ that plays like the mission statement of a veteran band finally hitting their groove. Where Handwritten rocks, rolls and sways with a soulful force, ‘Get Hurt’ limps along devoid of any trace of the band’s punk background. Even their oft-noted Springsteen influence is barely present, giving way instead to a late era Pearl Jam vibe complete with an Eddie Vedder croon and tepid mid-tempo plod-rock songs that struggled to hold their interest through their full run time.
It almost feels as if, after expending all their energy writing, recording and touring ‘Handwritten’, the Gaslight Anthem were left exhausted and rather than get to work on new material they decided to bash out a dozen leftover tracks from the ‘American Slang’ and ‘Handwritten’ sessions, package it as a subtle change in direction and call it a day.
[quote]The band finally lapses into the disappointingly cheesy territory that they have always threatened.[/quote]
Where ‘Get Hurt really’ misses the mark though is in its lyrical and thematic content. Although Brian Fallon has always been a little guilty of recycling, up until now his barefaced sincerity and poetic deftness has made for some charmingly heartfelt insight. 5 albums in, though, the same schtick that made TGA mean so much to me when I was 18 is now grating. There are only so many rhymes for “heart”, so many metaphors for doomed romance, so many way to namedrop Sam Cooke and they were used up a long time ago, leaving a set of cloyingly earnest love songs that, after almost a decade of near constant repetition, is now beginning to feel alarmingly cynical.
[quote]It would be a real shame to go out on an album as uninspired as Get Hurt. [/quote]
When I dragged my friend along to watch TGA at Leeds festival a couple years ago after Handwritten came out I was as excited as I’d get all weekend. By about their third song I was left feeling so deflated by their sloppy playing, Fallon’s cracked voice and the uninspired setlist that I apologised for making my friend miss Tribes, promised on my life Polar Bear Club would be way better (and how they were) and left early to catch the end of Iceage. The feeling I got upon my first listen of Get Hurt – the reserved anticipation followed by a gradual realisation that, hey, this actually kinda stinks – was an almost exact replay of this Leeds set.
I can only hope this is a temporary slump and not the beginning of the end for one of the defining bands of my late teens, and after such a solid run it would be a real shame to go out on an album as uninspired as Get Hurt, but unless they drastically change things up soon I can’t forsee there being much life left in The Gaslight Anthem.
For completists and mega-fans only, everyone else should get ‘Handwritten’ and ‘The ’59 Sound’ instead.