After spending most of their career being compared favourably to fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem have made a point of talking up the fact that their new LP, Get Hurt, is far removed from their previous four albums. Frontman Brian Fallon has said the record is “completely different than anything we had ever done before”, adding that “this time we actually really changed up a lot of the sounds”.
It’s a big claim from a band that have rarely strayed from the formula that has got them to where they are now. Not only that, it is an especially risky move following the success they had on the back of their fourth album – and first under a major label – 2012’s Handwritten. That record saw the four-piece lose some of the grit of their earlier material in favour of meaty, stadium-filling anthems that were not afraid of showing off their rock influences.
Get Hurt certainly continues that move away from the band’s punk beginnings – with producer Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, Foals and Jake Bugg) helping that transition – but to say that it is a drastic reinvention would be stretching the truth somewhat. While there are interesting moments throughout, the end product is ultimately very hit-and-miss when compared to the consistent excellence of their best work, second album The ‘59 Sound.
Album opener, Stay Vicious, is an obvious example of one of the many attempts the band make at trying something new, with its heavier, metal-influenced guitar hook encouraging Fallon to sing his lines with an even throatier vocal than normal. “Well I feel just like a stranger/ I don’t sleep at all anymore/ and the arms that used to hold me/ well now they’ve done me harm,” he sings, in one of many references to the breakdown of his marriage.
It is followed by the equally chunky rock of 1,000 Years, which stutters unconvincingly towards the saving grace of its sing-a-long chorus – one of the few on Get Hurt to really make an impact. Single Rollin’ and Tumblin’ is another that revolves around a thrusting guitar riff and Fallon’s yearning vocals, as he delivers a series of bittersweet lyrics: “Baby, I was born on the 4th of July/ exploding like a firework.”
The title track goes in an entirely different direction, with its minimal, slow-burning melody providing the backbone for Fallon’s cathartic words (“And I came to get hurt/ might as well do your worst to me”), while Stray Paper is a whole new prospect again – largely down to the backing vocals from soul singer Sharon Jones. Yet while these experiments are interesting when taking in isolation, as a complete record, Get Hurt is quite a difficult listen.
That’s not to say that it is an album without any redeeming moments, though. Selected Poems is one particular highlight, with its huge guitar hook and rousing chorus reminiscent of the passion and thrills that dominated The ‘59 Sound. Then there’s closer Dark Places, which builds towards a satisfying and emotive conclusion, as Fallon delivers his earnest vocals over crashing guitars and a thumping beat.
However, for an album that initially promised so much, Get Hurt ultimately falls short. Tracks such as Ain’t That A Shame and Red Violins lack the instant connection that Great Expectations or The ’59 Sound achieved so effortlessly Furthermore, in try to do so much, The Gaslight Anthem have only succeeded in producing a record that sounds fragmented and overblown. The band’s ambition is admirable and Get Hurt may eventually be looked back on as a formative record, but right now it suggests a band in limbo.