I Came to Get Hurt: Review of New Album from The Gaslight Anthem

I officially declared myself a fan of The Gaslight Anthem after listening to their sophomore album, The ’59 Sound. This was shortly followed by seeing them play live on their home turf in Asbury Park, NJ in 2011 which included a special guest appearance by The Boss. I was hooked immediately. Since The ’59 Sound, the band has released three more albums, the last of which was released Tuesday, August 12th. This new album, titled Get Hurt, had quite a bit of hype around it over the past few months, as front man, Brian Fallon made various statements describing the album as being quite a departure from their previous sound, a very distinct sound that many fans have come to love and expect. He also made it clear that, in preparation for this record, he had been listening to a lot of bands who have made their mark on rock n’ roll history by shedding their musical skin and emerging as something wholly new and bursting with musical creativity. Some of the bands tossed around in these conversations included U2, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd and The Beatles.

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That being said, fans and critics were eagerly awaiting this album, and pouncing on singles and leaked teasers to get a taste of what was to come. I was one of those people, and I felt like a kid on Christmas whenever a new video, song or teaser came out prior to the album’s release. I have now given the full album (including 5 brand new bonus tracks) a few listens and here is what I think. Yes, the album is definitely different from anything that the band has previously released. Is is as drastic a departure as Brian Fallon seemed to imply? In my opinion, I don’t think so. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Throughout the whole album, there are songs that have that traditional Gaslight Anthem sound that brought in legions of fans with the previous 4 albums – and there are songs that do stray from that formula, bringing something new to the table. For any of you who have been following any of Brian Fallon’s side projects over the years, such as The Horrible Crowes, with their darker, blues-tinged sound, or the more recent Molly & the Zombies, with their own spin on Americana – then some of the new sounds on this new record should not be that surprising. Fallon is a prolific songwriter, and he fully embraces the music and artists who have influenced him growing up. One can very clearly hear influences ranging from Tom Waits to Tom Petty, with nods to Pearl Jam and even Nirvana throughout.

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Throughout my first couple spins, I won’t lie and say that I fell head over heels for this new album. There were some songs, like the title track, and the lead single, Rollin’ and Tumblin’ that I immediately loved right off the bat. And some of the slow burners such as Have Mercy and Sweet Morphine are heart-breakingly gorgeous tunes. But initially, there are some moments throughout that are a bit jarring and almost clumsy. It felt like, just when I expected some tracks to blow up and explode, the band pulls back when it feels almost unnatural to do so. In a few interviews, band members have said that not only did they experiment this time around with some new instruments, but explored using their traditional instruments in brand new ways, creating new sounds. That is very obvious in songs like Underneath the Ground, Get hurt and Sweet Morphine – and it compliments those songs nicely. However, songs like 1,000 Years, Helter Skeleton, Selected Poems and Red Violins – all of which have powerful and catchy choruses, also have something about them that feels off kilter.

However, after some repeated close listens, these songs have grown on me. Maybe it was just a matter of having to fall into the particular rhythm of the album as a whole. I’ve experienced albums like that before, and those albums tend to be the best. Sometimes, you really have to devote some time to an album, or any work of art for that matter, in order to immerse yourself in it and give yourself a chance to get acclimated.  Also, and I don’t want to make a big deal about this, as I do think that the album speaks for itself, but it is interesting to note that Brian Fallon just recently divorced from his wife of 10 years. So, just imagining the kind of head space he is in right now reveals a bit more about where this album is coming from. Thankfully, I have not experienced any kind of loss that can compare to what he may be going through, but I can only imagine that it plays no small part in the off kilter atmosphere of Get Hurt, and that is when the album begins to settle in a bit more – and make more sense to me.

So, given that The ’59 Sound was released in 2008, and Get Hurt 6 years later, is it so surprising that the two sound very different? Everyone grows, and everyone yearns for something new at some point or another. People change, things change, tastes evolve,  life falls into new rhythms – and one can spend their life fighting this, or do their best to roll with it. To me, this record sounds like someone doing their damnedest to roll with the punches, even though it hurts like hell.