Categories: Album Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

5.0 rating

I’ve been waiting for this record for years in the interest of full disclosure. The Gaslight Anthem has been in constant rotation on my playlists and devices since my early to mid-twenties. When they announced their hiatus, I was sad to think that we’d potentially never get another Gaslight record.

That said, I am no longer the person I was all those years ago, and neither are the Gaslight Anthem. In interviews and podcasts, lead singer/guitarist Brian Fallon discussed the road that led to the band’s revival. There are many people you wouldn’t think to thank for this: the Governor of New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi, and John Rzeznik (of the Goo Goo Dolls).

Having released several successful solo albums, Fallon felt that after the release of Local Honey, he was ready to close that chapter of his creative life. In an interview, he explains, “You know what’s cool? Rock music. Playing guitars. I want to turn up something to 10 and play. Kick an amp over or something.” In the same interview, Fallon described becoming bored during the pandemic, “Man, I like bands. My band is pretty good; what’s the matter with me?”

Fallon mentioned that while he had been considering rekindling Gaslight for a while, it wasn’t something that he had even talked to his wife about. One night, while driving to play a fundraiser for the Governor of New Jersey, Fallon admitted to his wife Stacy that he missed playing in a rock band. That evening, Bon Jovi and Rzeznik asked Fallon to meet them for dinner at a diner before the event and talked about how good the Gaslight Anthem was. Fallon decided that if he could write four songs that he felt were Gaslight material, he would call up drummer Benny Horowitz.

After meeting with Horowitz, he agreed that if the band decided to write new material, then he was in. Fallon then sent the demos he recorded, one of which would become Positive Charge, to the rest of the members.

Having established a relationship with Bruce Springsteen over the years, Fallon met Springsteen for pizza to discuss it and received Springsteen’s encouragement, so much so that the Boss sent Fallon a text on his way home asking him to write a duet for the both of them.

Fallon stated they did not want “to make a sombre or serious record showing how much we’ve matured.” However, the record is more mature than earlier releases without seeming like it was a conscious statement. The excitement of making music together again is evident. While an excellent album, if they re-recorded The ’59 Sound repeatedly, it would be boring. History Books, in terms of the entirety of the album and the track, features the music we’ve loved and the lyrical content that cements Brian Fallon as one of my all-time favourite lyricists.

The opening track, “Spider Bites“, comes out swinging with anthemic, singalong qualities. It also has a lot going on with it, musically speaking. There appear to be multiple layers of instrumentation, including guitar riffs and piano, resolving into the first verse and returning during the pre-chorus and chorus. This song has generated my only (and admittedly objectively trivial) critique of the entire record:  I think that the vocals in what I’m calling the pre-chorus should have been brought up a little in the mix.

The title track (and second single), History Books, is classic Gaslight Anthem and will surely be a staple in their setlists and a crowd favourite. This track cements the long-standing relationship between Fallon and Bruce Springsteen as The Boss sings the second verse and is featured prominently in the backing vocal mix.

Fallon discusses the track by saying, “In some ways, each song is a history book – they each tell a story of the past and the things we’ve left behind.”

It isn’t easy to describe the complexity of what Fallon can express in just a few lines. There is a sense of nostalgia and a sadness that, while that time has passed, an acceptance of the same. At the same time, it recognizes the abject sadness of knowing people who can’t quite seem to let go of the past and their desire to remain chained to it. This is perhaps best captured in the lines: “You just remind me of the nights of smoke and dirty jokes/darkened rooms with lonely ghosts/And they were beautiful some time ago/But time keeps rolling us on”, which leads directly into the chorus in which he sings, “When I think of it now/It just brings me down.”

The fourth track but first single, “Positive Charge”, finds Fallon discussing his struggles with mental health and the feeling that he no longer recognizes the person in the mirror. Again, Fallon’s ability to maintain a level of bluntness while still writing poetically is on full display: “Where did you go?/I would say that to myself often/Like I was dressing up for a coffin to lie down in.” This track will be in heavy rotation in their set and another crowd singalong favourite.

“Michigan, 1975” is a track inspired by the 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides. The music is light and dreamy in contrast to the dark subject matter. The song features lines in a falsetto and lyrics that strike your heart, like, “Because if I could be free, why would I stay chained? And if that makes you sad, you should be ashamed/And maybe I’m not the one to blame after all/I’m saving up my body for when I’m in love/But if you want me now you should call me up/Cos I’m losing my desire for being alive, tonight/In Michigan, in 1975.”

“Empires” is a dark track, and I look forward to hearing exactly what Fallon thought when he wrote it. Unless the meaning is evident, I tend to avoid speculation behind the meaning of a song, as it may be subjective. The past few years have been quite dark and depressing, and this track structures the chorus around the words “no mercy”, though the lyrics between the utterances change. This track is so well written, musically and lyrically, that, despite its slower tempo, I hope it becomes a staple in their live shows.

While the new album’s first track comes out swinging, the last track, “A Lifetime of Preludes“, is a slower song, somewhat reminiscent of a track you’d find on Fallon’s Painkillers album. The track features clean guitars, a prominent snare drum, and a subtle female backing vocal in the chorus. The subtle backing vocal adds a melancholy as Fallon sings, “But in my dreams, I was in your arms/And the lives we lived they seemed so far/And I could feel your heartbeat mix with mine/And I slept there for a lifetime.”

So, is this the Gaslight Anthem record we’ve all been waiting for? In attempting to remain objective as a longtime fan, I will say that the answer is a resounding yes. It makes an excellent entry point into their catalogue for those discovering them. For longtime fans, this is a fantastic album, and clearly, Gaslight is firing on all cylinders. It is well-written and well-produced, containing a great mix of singalong anthems and quieter, more thoughtful tracks.


Jesse Yarbrough

Jesse Yarbrough lives in Louisville, Kentucky and has been a lifelong fan of live music. He played guitar, poorly, in several punk bands who’s breakups were more celebrated than their shows. He writes show reviews, interviews, bad jokes, and does photography. His favorite current bands are the Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, Jason Isbell, Avail, and Bad Religion.