The Gaslight Anthem
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
To their credit, New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem was tired of the incessant Springsteen comparisons leveled their way and decided on this, their fifth full length studio release, to make a change. But shifting to a heavier Pearl Jam styled sound might not be the improvement many were hoping for.
Existing fans won’t be disappointed in the overall makeover. The band remains frontman/singer/songwriter Brian Fallon’s vehicle since it is his demonstrative lyrics and voice that sets the blueprint for the expansive, riff heavy, rust belt, blue collar rock the act has always excelled at. This set doesn’t change that and it’s tough to alter the Springsteen inflections that are by now ingrained in Fallon’s vocals. The words machine gun out of these tunes fast and furiously. Most concern the travails of life and love with the majority about a romantic breakup, a concept telegraphed by the upside down heart on the disc’s cover and even its title. Subtlety is not the Gaslight Anthem’s game.
Twin guitars lock into a gutsy, rootsy grip and the band sounds like every track is the last one they will record.
The verbal intensity and reaching for the back rows attitude seldom pauses long enough for the listener to catch their breath. Even tracks that kick off with a more restrained vibe such as the stuttering licks of “Red Violins” and the quieter, almost ballad “Selected Poems” result in cranked up guitars and excessive words that would be more effective if they were cut in half. Despite the quality of the individual songs, the bluster and pumped up passion becomes numbing and by the end of the 12th song (16th on the deluxe edition), it’s just exhausting. A few lighter moments such as the lovely ballad “Break Your Heart” help alleviate the pounding attack.
Let the driving riffage of “1,000 Years” give your air guitar skills a workout, appreciate the tight fisted punch of “Ain’t that a Shame” (not the Fats Domino oldie) but take a breather before diving back into the raucous fray where less is never more.