Change for a rock group can be good, especially around the fifth album. We can all name bands that have benefited from changing their musical direction. Gaslight Anthem has stated that their new disc “Get Hurt” is their attempt to leave the past behind. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead of progressing like for instance, U2 at the end of The Joshua Tree era, who made a left turn entering into the glory that was Achtung Baby, Gaslight Anthem is still jogging in place. This album unfortunately has the feel of the same old rehash with I suspect major producer/corporate string pulling. The wheels have come off this group creatively and not coincidentally around the same time Universal Music Group started to sign the cheques. Keep in mind this is a band exclusively defined by their relationship with Springsteen. This recording has every Neo-Springsteen rock cliché with a sprinkling of Bon Jovi circa mid 1980 mixed in, and seems to fail even getting near the high mark of the group’s earlier releases.
Before I continue, I need to make a full disclosure. I live within a 150 miles radius of South Jersey and that being the case you can get a bit weary of the whole Bruce Springsteen/Bon Jovi meme. Tons of bands in the area have tried to imitate either one or both. Both performers are certainly worthy, if not entirely my cup of tea. This disc sounds like Gaslight Anthem has a residency at the Stone Pony and is taking every opportunity to sound like a poor facsimile of both artists. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have a problem with bands trying to simulate the “Bruce sound” it can be very inspiring when done well. A group that springs to mind as having successfully melted the Bruce sound with their own vision is the group Deaf Havana. In this instance it is as if Gaslight Anthem was trying for the Foo Fighters and took a wrong turn on the Jersey Turnpike ended up some where quite unfortunate.
This release is the first real attempt for lead singer/guitarist Brian Fallon to write in the first person. Unfortunately all it has revealed is that he is a walking anachronism. Can you say sexist, rockism, and ageism? Other performers are all of these things but pull it off much better. This single-handed attempt to summons up the 90’s arm crossed real rock or roll stance and resurrecting Jersey Power Metal in the 2010’s, obviously has not succeeded. It has to be noted that Mike Crossey produced this release; he is a pretty apt producer who has produced the likes of Keane and Foals. That fact has me wondering what happened here. Was it his intention to have such muddy production? Was it a stab at imitating low grade production sound ala garage punk? The backing sound of the band is so poor that each song starts to be more of a slog as you go along.
The first song on the release, ‘Stay Vicious” starts out fine with nice power guitars and then oh dear, the channeling of Bruce starts. The song is all over the place, there is an attempt to sound like “The National” midway that is unsuccessful. Lyrically there is nothing of note. Next up “1,000” which seems like something Bon Jovi rejected. A tune that has another messy arrangement and low production quality. This song runs out of gas fast. The attempt at earnestness falls short.
“Get Hurt” A version of this song can be heard any night at the Stone Pony bar sung by Bruce Wannabes. It sounds like Fallon is doing his best Bruce imitation Circa “The River”.
“Stray Paper” is a woefully unnatural marriage of strangulated Bonjovi singing, with a faux attempt at heart felt Bruce lyrics. Nicest thing to say about this song is that it is under three minutes long. I won’t bore you with the next few songs, “Helter Skeleton”, “Underneath the Ground” and “Rolling and Tumblin”, they are all one as bad as the other. All three are a mess of lyrical oatmeal, and more bad attempts at emoting like Bruce Springsteen. One has a hard time imagine anyone cheering the first notes of any of these songs in concert.
“Red Violins” Come clap along with Bon Jovi, oh wait this is Gaslight Anthem. They are going to have to pay people to listen to this. The lyrics have no cohesion and seem to be totally disconnected from what is going on musically. “Select Poems” will make you wonder where the music went. It is totally obscured and then suddenly overwhelms the vocal. You might ask what the song is about; your guess is as good as mine. This is a three minute song that feels like seven. “Ain’t that a Shame” if that is a question about the record, yes it is a shame. The song is overdone, over sung, and over produced. A lyric like “with tears in my eyeballs” tells you all you need to know.
The song” Break Your Heart” is surprisingly not about what would happen if you spent your money on this record. Actually this song is pretty good. There is an attempt at coherence and true emotion. If the whole record had been modeled on this song it would have been a much better release. The last song “Dark Places” is more of the same, formula matic stuff. There are four additional songs on the deluxe version. I will not bore you with my thoughts on those songs.
Groups can get away with staying confined in a specific sound for the length of their career. Gaslight Anthem has done fairly well in the past with its South Jersey Mall Punk style. This release is an example of how woeful something can turn out when you don’t clear the fence attempting to get beyond the compound. I won’t lie to you this was a tough listen. The music when I could make it out was unexceptional, and the lyrics were all over the place, like a word salad at places. I listened to this so you don’t have to and give it the unfortunately rating of 3/10. I will repeat my recommendation that if you want a group that has synthesized the heart and soul of Bruce Springsteen and done a great job; try Deaf Havana’s release “Old Soul”.
LISTEN TO ‘GET HURT’ BELOW: