On the New Jersey punk rock band’s fifth LP, frontman Brian Fallon lost sight of the road beyond his dashboard and steered the Gaslight-mobile straight into Heartbreak Hotel. This is a breakup album, hot on the heels of Fallon’s recent divorce; and though The Gaslight Anthem should be hailed as a rock ‘n’ roll institution, they could not escape the breakup record’s inherent pitfalls.
The problem with “break up” music overall—no matter the genre—is that it borders on melodrama. On the record’s weaker tracks like “Stray Paper” and “Underneath the Ground,” the poetic power of lines like “Where mighty men lay down their hearts / In the service of their queens / And gave their bodies to be burned / Like I did before your feet,” is lost among the histrionics. The group also took a dive in musical quality, losing their impeccable sense of melody in the sludgy churning of songs like lead track “Stay Vicious.”
Thankfully, Fallon and the rest of the Gaslight gang still bring the elements that make them such a great group: melodic sensibility coupled with Fallon’s nostalgia-tinged storytelling. The band truly shines on songs like “Selected Poems,” on which it fires on all cylinders, bringing pounding rhythms and elevated guitar riffs while Fallon paints beautiful lyrical portraits with lines like “All I seemed to find is that everything has chains / And all this life just feels like a series of dreams.” Other numbers like the lead single “Rollin’ and Tumblin,” and “1000 years” see Gaslight blend heavy riffs and flowing melodies into a potent, balanced combination. The band even put away the distortion pedals and amps to play a supremely delicate and beautiful acoustic ballad, “Break Your Heart.”
Across the expertly produced LP, the Gaslight Anthem takes a couple stumbles in the wake of Fallon’s divorce, but comes out on top, still rollin’ and tumblin.’
Voice’s Choices: “1000 years,” “Selected Poems”