Comeback albums can be a curious proposition. Do you pick up where you left off, or aim to rediscover that magic that made you such a herald band the first time round? It’s a position The Gaslight Anthem find themselves in as they return with ‘History Books’ following their 2015 hiatus. After bursting out of their native of New Jersey with sophomore record, ‘The ’59 Sound’ (2008), the quartet carved out a sound that swayed between heartland rock and Americana punk rock. It’s a space that The Menzingers have considerably moved into during Gaslight‘s absence. Nevertheless, ‘History Books’ is organically the sound of a band revitalised.
The ten tracks on offer capture the raw sentimentality frontman Brian Fallon is known for, mixing it with a yearning for better days gone by. Here, he explores topics such as mortality, mental illness and broken love, yet it’s executed in a comforting manner. Opener, ‘Spider Bites’ sets up the poignant tone with Benny Horowitz’s rugged pounding drums countering Fallon’s words of “We circle ‘round the sun until someday we
won’t….And I’ll love you forever ‘til the day that I don’t”.
With each track, you’re introduced to the numerous tones The Gaslight Anthem are effortlessly able to transcend to. The title track is a rousing romp clouded in lyrical guilt. While the inclusion of influential singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen provides a grand quality as his raspy crooning tongue complements Fallon’s voice perfectly.
‘Autumn’ plods along in its Americana skin, allowing Fallon to reflect on how fleeting time can be. As blues guitars glide in and out, the steady tempo creates an alluring tone. In short, it exemplifies Fallon’s ability to create stirring, heartfelt imagery. Later on, ‘The Weatherman’ is whistful and heartbreaking in equal measure. Horowitz’s brush strokes, Alex Levine’s earthy bass, and Rosamilia’s bluesy guitars complement Fallon’s words of a broken down relationship, as he’s “trying to please”.
While Fallon’s songwriting is often autobiographical, he’s able to draw influence from elsewhere and create something truly compelling. For instance, ‘Michigan, 1975’ takes its inspiration from Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel ‘The Virgin Suicides‘. As Alex Rosamilia’s lead guitar plays a tender yet hypnotising pattern, Fallon and company stir up a captivating and tragic tale of a family tragedy.
It’d be easy to forget that TGA‘s roots lie in working-class punk, but thankfully ‘Little Fires’ reminds us of their punk rock capabilities. With a helping hand from PUP’s Stefan Babcock, it thrives on fuzzy guitars and rallying words of non-conformity. Whereas ‘Positive Charge’ opens with a wall of feedback before ringing guitars counter its energetic tempo, aligning with the celebratory line of “it’s good to be alive”.
Elsewhere, ‘I Live In The Room Above’ embraces muscular guitars and a rugged rhythm section, giving one of the album’s strongest choruses in the process, before ‘A Lifetime of Preludes’ ends proceedings on a comfortable note. Its dreamy lyrics see Fallon finding solace in what has passed and what is to come.
It is that view that pretty much sums up ‘History Books’. The Gaslight Anthem have dipped into the past, both musically and lyrically, to create a record that is earnest, soulful, and familiar. Varying in tones, styles, and structure, it’s a record that avoids reinventing The Gaslight Anthem for their next chapter. Instead ‘History Books’ is a concise collection, full of emotion.
‘History Books’ by The Gaslight Anthem is released on October 27th 2023 on Rich Mahogany Recordings.