GARY ALLAN > Get Off On the Pain

garyallan

GARY ALLAN

Get Off On The Pain

(MCA)

Rating: ★★★★½

As far as country radio is concerned, Gary Allan is a bit player. In the role of scruffy, tattooed bad-boy with a sensitive side, Allan has strung together a modicum of mainstream success by channeling his sexy growl into unobjectionable vignettes like “Tough Little Boys” and “Man to Man.” Following in this tradition is “Today” (the lead single from his upcoming album and eighth overall), a typical contemporary country heartbreak ballad with an elementary narrative arc and a made-for-mass-consumption string arrangement that does its best to mimic Nashville’s slickest product.

Fortunately, Allan abides this rote commercialism only momentarily. Like the bulk of his catalogue, Get Off On the Pain is complex and extraordinarily personal, a contemplative and often dark collection that finds the singer confronting his demons and coming to terms with what seems like a lifetime of rough roads and bad choices.

These stories may or may not be fictions, but, in either case, Allan convincingly sells them as first-hand truths. Throughout the album, his gravelly voice sounds scarred and weathered, and when he sings about his various indiscretions on the confessional “I Think I’ve Had Enough,” he does so with a conviction that lends the tale a rare air of believability. Likewise, his delivery on the masterfully crafted (and masochistic) “Kiss Me When I’m Down” is emotionally devastating. “Come on over, drink my wine,” he begs to a lover whom he just can’t quit. “Waste my candles, waste my time/Tell me lies I won’t believe/Just don’t wake me when you leave.”

Such honesty is rare in today’s country music, as too is the willingness to deal with difficult issues from a distinctly adult perspective. While so many of his peers strive to uncover the silver lining in any particular situation, here Allan asserts that choices have consequences, fights leaves scars that aren’t always beautiful, and forgiveness is anything but guaranteed.

Even the album’s more up-tempo numbers have Allan following this thematic thread—the rollicking title track is both a celebration of against-the-grain living and a confession of the trials that ensue from that lifestyle, while “That Ain’t Gonna Fly” finds its narrator in what he knows is a futile attempt to drink away his pain.

To that end, Get Off On the Pain is eternally substantive. The topics of Allan’s music may not be terribly novel, but here he breathes a fresh layer of depth and realism into what might otherwise be well-worn stories.

Rounding out the collection is Allan’s first direct discussion of his wife’s suicide, “No Regrets.” Where Allan’s landmark 2005 album Tough All Over was very much a cathartic project that found him pouring his battered soul into his music, “No Regrets” offers a more cerebral take on life in tragedy’s aftermath. It’s a touching and honest tribute that, fittingly, is far from candy-coated or soft around the edges. He’s still a little broken, and he still goes to bed alone every night, but he wouldn’t change a minute of the life they shared together.

Few of us can possibly understand the pain of losing someone that way, but we can walk away from this song knowing that it’s the fortunate among us who will love, and be loved back, with no regrets.

Get Off On the Pain may not be the world’s most uplifting listening experience, but what it lacks in cheer it makes up in truth. For fans who appreciate outstanding country music that deals with real issues, that fact may just make the album’s title a perfectly appropriate statement.