This week’s reviews: Gaslight Anthem, Owl John

Let’s have a serious conversation about The Gaslight Anthem. Their first album, Sink or Swim was released in 2007 and was a near perfect pop-punk debut full of catchy melodies and sincere lyrics. The 59 Sound was released in 2009 and charmed just about everyone. Most of the 12 songs, most notably the title track,  “Great Expectations,” and “The Backseat” captured the Jersey/Suburban aesthetic. It was the perfect example of how to be influenced by somebody (in their case, Springsteen) without explicitly being that somebody.

Their next album, American Slang, was released 2 years later. While it was not as good as their breakthrough album but it has a few good songs (like “We Did It When We Were Young” and “The Spirit of Jazz). Handwritten came next, in 2012, and was an overproduced mess.

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The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt (2014, Island)

And this week, Get Hurt was released. I would like to declare this as the moment I am ready to put Gaslight Anthem in my “I like only their old stuff” folder.

It hasn’t been that many years since the release of Sink or Swim and The 59 Sound. But it seems like Brian Fallon’s voice has aged at least 20 years in that time. Fallon does his best scraggly voice impression in the album’s closing track, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Anywhere I Lay My Head.” “Mama’s Boys,” starts with a Dylan-esque harmonica and sounds intentionally muffled and then erupts into a even more Dylan-esque up-tempo jangley song. It is like Fallon has traded in his supply of Springsteen white-tshirts for a a batch of Waits’ bourbon and Dylan shades.

There is still one thing I like about Gaslight: their acoustic ballads. These are the only songs where the band actually sounds sincere. Get Hurt does have one: “Break Your Heart.”

In “Break Your Heart” Fallon expresses unresolved agony and discomfort. He talks about his “scars” and his connection to music, which we can all relate to. But it seems like we are supposed to implicitly pity his problems. The lyric that stuck out the most was the chorus, “If I played you my favorite song/ lying here in the dark/ Oh my my/ It would break your heart.”  The lyrical sincerity is gone.  The unique melodies are replaced by the melodies of their idols.  Gaslight just feels like one of those bands who are too big for their britches. They are riding on their perceived success.

With that being said, I will always think fondly of Sink or Swim and The 59 Sound and what this band used to be.  And, just for the record, the cover of Get Hurt really does look like a butt.

Recommended Track: “Break Your Heart” (sort of)


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Owl John – Owl John (2014, Atlantic Records)

Owl John is the latest project of Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit). While I am not sure how the sound of project differs from the sound of Frightened Rabbit, Owl John is very good. It is full of Scottish gloom. Hope is expressed in “Cold Creeps.” “Songs about Roses” is a plea for variety and sincerity.  Hutchison exclaims, “We don’t need songs about roses/ All we ask for is truth.”  For fans of sorrowful songs, this album is definitely recommended.  It is a manifestation of the impending autumn and winter months: cold, bleak, and promising.

Recommended Track: “Los Angeles, Be Kind”

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