"By the end of the album, Fallon is still fundamentally tortured": comeback album History Books finds The Gaslight Anthem reflective but utterly revived

History Books is a soul-searching, redemptive and worthy return for the New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem: History Books cover art
(Image: © VF Recordings)

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When Bruce Springsteen says: "Rock", The Gaslight Anthem – more than most heartland bands – say: "How hard?" When Gaslight singer Brian Fallon was pondering reuniting the band after an eight-year hiatus and four impressive solo albums, he turned to Springsteen – a friend and mentor as much as an obvious influence these days-for guidance.

"Write songs" was the crux of The Boss's advice, and one of the first Fallon wrote was the title track of this belated sixth Gaslight Anthem album, a dynamic drive-time rocker bound, as ever, for glory, and featuring Springsteen as a grizzled voice of wisdom drawing out the song's broken, despondent heart: 'One day goes by, I try to live till the next one...'

They'll doubtless be tired of the comparison, but History Books finds The Gaslight Anthem echoing Springsteen's more recent, reflective and mature albums too. Bare-chested canyon rock is present and correct, but so too is much introspection, melancholia, hurt and hope. For all its galloping anthemic bluster, opener Spider Bites is racked with anxiety and pessimism: 'We circle round the sun till the day that we won't,' Fallon cries. 

Ponderous rocker Autumn details his eternal internal battles with mental health ('There's too much traffic in my head, babe...all my feelings always seem so out to get me'). Empires, a classic blue-collar lament set to beats reverberating from the walls of Ultravox's Vienna, finds him – or his weary working-man protagonist – facing down judgement day having learned 'there's an evil in the heart of this world, and much more in the heart of a man'.

By the end of the album, Fallon is still fundamentally tortured: 'Only I can know how thin the walls have grown inside of me, in the dark on my own', he attests on oceanic closer A Lifetime Of Preludes, a long, dark night spent dreaming of lost love.

Along the way, though, History Books is bathed in occasional shards of redemptive light. Positive Change arrives as a pounding, powerful blast of self-help therapy inspired by Fallon's experiences with psychoanalysis, that sets out to rise above his traumas: 'I need a spark, I need a positive charge, plug it into my veins, make me love this life again'. For a while, the spark fires him up. Sophisticated, piano-brushed ballad Michigan, 1975 drifts gorgeously towards a subtle revelation – love doesn't scare me any more – and the powerhouse punk Little Fires blazes through the album's core with all the excitement, defiance and pride of a pivotal modern heartland rock band utterly revived.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.