In recent interviews leading up to the release of Get Hurt, the newest release by New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem, singer/guitarist Brian Fallon made it clear that fans shouldn't expect the same ol' collection of paeans to girls named Maria and leaving the radio on. "Completely different than anything we had ever done before," is how Fallon put it to Rolling Stone last May. While admitting that fans of the band would be able to recognize snippets of songs that could have belonged on their previous work, "there are some songs where you're going to be like, 'This has never been touched by this band before.'"
Fallon's not exaggerating. The 12 songs that comprise Get Hurt (or up to 16 depending on which version you decide to purchase) show a band that has taken a look at itself and decided to throw a few wrenches into the mix. The album opener, "Stay Vicious", shows off that fact immediately, with loud and fuzzy guitars blasting over a medium-tempo beat. "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," Fallon growls, his voice sounding grittier and more worn than ever before. "Once upon a time I lived a perfect life … in a dream of mine from a thousand years ago," he sings on "1,000 Years", the chorus sounding as big and loud as fans have come to expect. That notwithstanding, Get Hurt is a darker record than previous Gaslight releases.
Slower/mixed tempos and more subdued vocals take up a good part of the album. The band explores different combinations than on earlier records to mixed results. Where previously, the results would be loud and anthemic, here Gaslight has opted for a more subdued atmosphere. While the loud, sing-along choruses can still be found in places ("Rollin' and Tumblin'", "1,000 Years", "Ain't That a Shame"), songs like "Break Your Heart" and "Red Violin" are more nuanced. Bombast is traded for more subtle feelings, sometimes mixing both at the same time, particularly on "Selected Poems".
"It would break your heart/If you knew me well/See, I have run so far/That I've lost myself," Fallon softly sings the beginning of "Break Your Heart". Falling towards the end of the album, it is the soft, heartbreaking highlight of Get Hurt and displays the songwriting strength of Fallon and Co: "If you knew how I loved you/If I showed you my scars/If I played you my favorite song/Lying here in the dark" demonstrates a first-person emotional depth not previously heard on Gaslight releases. It's safe to classify Get Hurt as a heartbreak record, making the cover art's inverted heart more symbolic.
The iTunes exclusive, "Have Mercy" takes on an almost Tom Waits influence. Starting with Fallon nearly growling, "Come pick me up from the night/From the hands of the dark/From the things I didn't know/That would simply break your heart", it slowly builds into a soft marching beat asking an unnamed person not to ask where he's been or who he's seen, "because you don't want to know … leave it alone." A highlight.
Get Hurt is a difficult album. It challenges the longtime fan to re-examine why they loved The Gaslight Anthem in the first place, but still invites them on a journey that is worth taking. Darker and not nearly as accessible as their previous releases, repeated listens give way to a greater appreciation. Not everyone is going to be into traveling the road that Gaslight has chosen to take on this release. Those that stick around might get a different appreciation for what the band has to offer.