Singer Brian Fallon’s revelation that The Gaslight Anthem’s new musical direction was instigated by The 1975 set alarm bells ringing. Would the band known for its greasy heartland rock trade burly riffs for shiny guitar pop? Thankfully not. Rather than swiping The 1975’s style, they enlisted their producer, Mike Crossey, whose CV also boasts the meatier likes of Foals and Arctic Monkeys.
For all Fallon’s talk of a massive switch-up, his band’s fifth album doesn’t shift too much from their usual lovelorn, jagged melodies. That said, opener ‘Stay Vicious’ is as brutal as they have ever dared be. “I feel just a like a stranger/I feel just like a murderer”, growls Fallon, like he’s been gargling broken beer bottles. Here, he briefly recaptures the rawness of their 2007 debut ‘Sink Or Swim’, before the song slides into a delicate twinkle.
‘Get Hurt’ is stuffed with anthemic moments, but its crowning glory comes in the barrelling, tortured chorus of ‘Selected Poems’, with major-to-minor chord shifts and Fallon’s fervent croak. Though not one of their most technically perfect songs, it emphatically stakes his claim as one of the most passionate singers in contemporary rock.
His dramatic vocals might be in full force, but conspicuous by their absence are The Gaslight Anthem’s usual lyrical canvases of Americana, save for a couple of brief glimpses of the old dive bar-dwelling, jukebox-thumping badasses in the pair of back-to-back weepies that close the album. During the harrowing acoustics of ‘Break Your Heart’, Fallon sings “If I played you my favourite song”, offering a flashback to the vinyl obsession that inspired ‘45’ from 2012’s ‘Handwritten’ LP. ‘Dark Places’ is equally earnest, set in a car, with Fallon playing the role of depressed road hog and threatening to drive it into the sea.
In largely ditching diners, AM radios and the rest, The Gaslight Anthem have crafted a more universal album, mirroring Kings Of Leon’s move from rodeo-stomping Southern pride to a more general take on love, relationships and shagging on 2008’s ‘Only By The Night’. Yet in doing so, they might just have lost something intrinsic to their identity.