Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem - History Books
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

When The Gaslight Anthem released Get Hurt in 2014 it seemed the band were on an unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. With only eight years under their belts, four acclaimed records (including the sophomore masterpiece The ’59 Sound), a significant mainstage slot at Download 2011 and being championed by non-other than the Boss himself, everything was falling into place.

Yet the band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2015, only re-emerging for some shows in 2018 for ‘59’s tenth anniversary. A few shows in 2022 gave hope for more to come and this week sees that hope coming to fruition with the first new record in nine years.

History Books is a record that ruminates on the subject of aging and examines the reality of living with the decisions you have made. Most of The Gaslight Anthem’s work is wistfully introspective and, now the band have breached forty, and the passions and impulsivity of youth have cooled, they have taken the opportunity to reflect.

This doesn’t mean the record is a dirge, rather it is an amalgamation of the collective experience of the four members, channelled through the medium of music. The Gaslight Anthem’s core sound is very much Americana, though more in line with their native New Jersey, than the plains of the west, and the influences of the Jersey Shore can be heard throughout.

Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem - History Books

Most notably, the influence of Bruce Springsteen can be felt through the opening Spider Bites, with its jangling guitars, the deeply introspective The Weatherman, constructed around simple beats and the country feel of A Lifetime of Preludes. That The Boss adds his voice to the title-track gives weight to the song, but pounding drums mean the track is already a success.

The theme of nostalgia will inevitably lead to mournful self-reflection and History Books has its share of melancholic narratives. Autumn opens with a lone guitar and progresses at a slow pace, not too far removed from Handwritten’s Too Much Blood; Michigan 1975 recycles the Springsteen treatment by telling a blue-collar narrative and feels closer to singer, Brian Fallon’s solo material, whereas Empires is a slow burner in which the narrator contemplates his own place in the universe.

Of course, The Gaslight Anthem is, at heart, a rock band and the Jersey Shore Sound contains enough heavy influences to still resonate with the band. This is, after all, the land of Misfits and Skid Row and not too far from the reach of the NYHC scene. Positive Charge shows there’s still a ferocious punk rock heart to the band as Alex Rosamilia unleases a frenzied solo; Little Fires has a ripping intro and driving central riff and I Live in the Room Above is easily History Book’s heaviest and most brutal song.

Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz keep everything ticking over nicely, whether that is on the slower, measured songs or the fast pounders; Alex R’s guitar combines with Brian’s to either break your heart or your eardrums, in what is, at times, a masterclass of musical restraint.

Brian’s vocals drip with emotion across all ten songs and his lyrics utilise some disparate imagery to establish his theme. Don’t hear many writers managing to rhyme the word “vestibule” very often.

Peter Katis’ production is crisp and even, allowing all aspects of the band’s sound to resonate through and deliver a heart-rending collection of songs on the topic of lost time. The Gaslight Anthem will be hitting the road again in the spring of 2024 when I’m sure most of these tunes will be greeted as welcome new additions to an already impressive catalogue.

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