The Gaslight Anthem spent their previous four albums sticking to more or less the same sonic formula: a couple of brawny, gritty tube-amp guitars accompanied by frontman Brian Fallon bellowing away, playing the classic songwriter’s role of the secretly wounded, soft-hearted tough guy. Fellow New Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen has always been an obvious inspiration, but the Gaslight Anthem filtered that influence through an ’80s punk and alt-rock lens, as if the Boss had spent the Reagan years touring dingy dive bars with the likes of the Replacements instead of packing out Giants Stadium. However, their latest album, Get Hurt, is a shockingly misguided assemblage of over-processed hair-metal guitars, ’80s adult-contemporary keyboard swill, and hilariously overblown skullduggery.
There’s no denying that much of Get Hurt, including the jubilant lead single “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (which is unfortunately not a Muddy Waters cover), could have fit right in alongside all those corporate yuppie-rock anthems by Bon Jovi and the rest of rock’s mulleted hitmakers on the radio in 1987. The rest of album’s rockers strip away whatever fun parts of hair metal exist and leave only the “tense” caronking guitars (the pseudo-metal riff of the opening “Stay Vicious” is particularly grotesque). The drab, keyboard-driven ballads don’t fare much better: “Underneath the Ground” brings to mind a ’90s boy band attempting trip-hop. Not until the album’s penultimate track, “Break Your Heart,” does the band finally strip away all the glossy production.
The result of all the album’s unbearable gaudiness is that when Fallon sings, “You better tell nobody but God all the things I’ve seen,” on the particularly Bon Jovi-esque “Stray Paper,” he sounds less like he’s talking about sin and pain than H&M overcharging him for a leather jacket. True, Fallon’s gruff, ultra-intense intonations about heartbreak and days gone by have always been a little too earnest to truly allow him to take up the mantle of his more irreverent alt-rock heroes. The problem is that, when backed by either crass, dated cock rock or sluggish balladry, his shtick goes from sounding painfully sincere to comically melodramatic. Verging-on-emo lines like “I came to here get hurt/Might as well do your worst to me” and “If it would help I would carve your name into my heart” might have sounded convincing on the band’s 2008 breakthrough, The ’59 Sound, but here, backed by absurdly bombastic production, it sounds like dialogue from a Lifetime movie.