The Gaslight Anthem – ‘History Books’

By Katherine Allvey

A lot has happened since 2007, and the Gaslight Anthem are not the same men who sat down to write ‘Sink Or Swim’. The fifteen intervening years since their debut have sent the Alexes, Brian and Benny through a gauntlet of divorce and relentless touring, plus an eight year ‘indefinite hiatus’ that we assumed was code for ‘breaking up’. “None of us wanted to make a very somber or serious record showing how much we’ve matured,” said Brian Fallon in a recent interview, explaining the motivation behind finally satisfying our cravings for more Gaslight Anthem. “We’ve all changed and grown and learned so much, but the overall mood was a feeling of excitement to be back together and making music that means something to us.” Rest assured, ‘History Books’ is a winner. The fire that burned in the first decade of this millennium in their music is now a deep pit of smouldering embers that gives off enough heat to melt your frozen heart. 

When you get a copy of this album, go outside at night. Hit play, turn the volume up as high as your ears will permit, and soak your soul in the sublime beauty of the loneliness that the Gaslight Anthem have captured in ‘History Books’. Find solace in the shared human enjoyment of the little things, like ‘black jeans in autumn’ or ‘leaves falling down’, as frontman Brian Fallon softly and cautiously prays for on ‘Autumn’. Try not to think about how your day’s gone, or dwell on how your last fifteen years have worked out, just as Fallon is now attempting to. Wistfully, he admits that ‘it just brings me down when I think of it now’ on the moody title track, a duet with Fallon’s idol Bruce Springsteen. There’s no longing for a sepia past any more. There’s an acceptance that time has moved on, and that we are only observers of the flow of years. 

One of the most charming features of the Gaslight Anthem’s back catalogue is how they pick up and weave lyrical threads over the course of their albums. Think of how many times, and in how many forms, you’ve heard Fallon sing ‘darling’ or ‘sympathy’ in a solo or Gaslight Anthem song. The good news is that this is still very much present in this album, and each vocal shout out to a previous song will fill you with a sense of glee like a punk rock Indiana Jones uncovering a relic. Even some of the key changes between verse and chorus spark recognition. It’s not a simple replica of their earlier sound; it’s a tribute to themselves and to us for sticking with them.

“A lot of this record is questioning all the bad stuff we see in the world and the difficult things we go through in life, and asking how to deal with it,” Fallon shared. “I think the answer is that we’re all in this together and that somehow makes it okay, even when it’s anything but easy. The main message of the album is empathy.” From the moment the opening chimes of ‘The Weatherman’ ring out like forgotten church bells, you’ll know that your pain is understood. If you’ve ever spent far too long trying to understand the changing phases of your lover’s moods, then this song will speak to your heart. Take ‘I Live In The Room Above’, a song of an unrequited crush that’s simultaneously packed with desire, comfort and a muscular guitar solo, as just another example. The Gaslight Anthem have pressed glimpses of universal emotions like faded iridescent butterflies in the pages of their ‘History Books’ and no matter how many listens you give to each track, their potency remains undiluted.

Like old haunts and forgotten ghosts, ‘History Books’ is a clear reminder that the Gaslight Anthem haven’t really left us. Elegaic longing manifested in contemplative rock meandering has never been more necessary, sounded so satisfying, or been so welcome.  

KATE ALLVEY

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