After announcing an indefinite hiatus in 2015, briefly broken to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their seminal second album The 59 Sound in 2018, New Jersey based four piece The Gaslight Anthem at last return with their sixth full-length release History Books, their first in over nine years.
Despite often being pitched as punk, The Gaslight Anthem’s sound is much more complex, unable to be defined by a single genre. This is especially evident on History Books, where the band seamlessly meld their wide ranging influences together, whether that’s through piercing rock riffs or ethereal acoustic. And whereas punk is typically defined by outward anger, the lyricism on History Books is pensive, highlighting the highs and lows of the human condition.
Opener ‘Spider Bites’ is a tale of upbeat anguish, with its steady drumbeat and hazy guitar soundtracking a singalong of struggles. And with the band’s music having faced countless comparisons to that of Bruce Springsteen, what better person to have guest on the title track than the man himself? Springsteen’s vocals, shared with that of frontman Brian Fallon, meld with morose lyrics set to pounding percussion and desperate guitars.
Softer moments arise in folk-tinged tracks ‘Autumn’ and ‘The Weatherman’ : the former engrosses through a toe tapping beat and a vibrato soaked solo, while the latter emits an air of Americana, with it’s finger picked notes evoking the atmosphere of sitting around a campfire.
Bringing it back to banger mode with ‘Positive Charge’, Fallon recalls his struggles with mental health amongst a backdrop of thrashing guitars: “I need a spark/I need a positive charge/Plug it into my brain/Make me love my life again”. But despite the downs, the track ends on a high note: “How I missed you/And it’s good to be alive”. It’s refreshing to hear a song that, rather than wallowing in deep despair, proves even the lowest of lows can eventually be overcome.
We are then treated to some literary lyricism in the track ‘Michigan, 1979’, inspired by Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides. The floating feeling that permeates ‘Michigan’ is contrasted by the dreary, depressing drums of ‘Empires’. While both on the slow side, one song lifts up, while the other drags down.
‘Little Fires’ is as close to pure punk as the album gets, helped largely by another guest vocal appearance from one of the genre’s heavyweights, PUP frontman Steven Babcock. A slight change in speed partway into the track brings about a chaotic catharsis, supplemented by a shouted story of struggle.
‘I Live In The Room Above’ may have listeners checking their turntables, as it’s heavy, strung out guitars almost sound like they could be on a 45 being played at 33rpm. Don’t lift the needle just yet though: ‘A Lifetime Of Preludes’ provides a romantic wrap up through a sweet serenade of dreamy backing vocals.
History Books is a new page in The Gaslight Anthem’s story, and as such an engaging extract, one hopes there is plenty left to be told.
History Books is out October 27 on Rich Mahogany Recordings (Distributed by Thirty Tigers)