If The Gaslight Anthem’s last album, 2012’s Handwritten, had one major flaw, it was that frontman Brian Fallon and crew were clearly trying to evolve their gruff, heart-on-sleeve rock roots beyond its humble punk roots—and they just weren’t bold enough about it. That accusation can’t be leveled at Get Hurt. The New Jersey band’s new album is its most ambitious, its most sprawling, and its most risk-taking. As if realizing Handwritten, as good as it was overall, was a half-measure, The Gaslight Anthem has doubled its effort to reach for new sounds. In some places, it works; in others, the strain shows.
Fallon has cited Pearl Jam’s No Code—an album full of headstrong genre-blending and experimentation—as an influence on Get Hurt. The thing is, No Code was created by one of the biggest bands in the world, in a crucible of tension and confusion; The Gaslight Anthem is not in that place, and none of that kind of energy fuels Get Hurt. At best, its modest gestures toward experimentation feel like an empty exercise in switching out a few instruments and influences here and there. In some songs, like “Underneath The Ground” and the album’s title track, that shimmering atmosphere doesn’t serve a purpose except for hollowing out Fallon’s emotive hooks. And without those, The Gaslight Anthem sounds deflated.
Still, The Gaslight Anthem has managed to avoid making a tame record. The production is note-perfect, but for every would-be No Code track, there’s a boilerplate Fallon rocker, like the rousing “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” and the fist-flying “Dark Places.” But when the album stomps into classic-riff-rock territory, such as on the T. Rex-esque “Stay Vicious,” it feels heavy-handed. At the other end of the spectrum, Fallon’s lyrics verge on self-parody on the hushed, softly strummed “Break Your Heart,” which might as well be the working title for every one of his songs. “Have Mercy” closes the album with a breathlessly slow buildup—complete with honey-sweet backup vocals—that goes nowhere and evokes little. The Gaslight Anthem deserve credit for stretching so far on Get Hurt; it’s just too bad the band spreads out in so many directions without committing to any of them.