Review : Gary Allan - Get Off on the Pain
PopmattersAs if the titles of his albums didn’t make it clear, life with Gary Allan is never an easy ride. At various times throughout his both lucrative and artistically rich career, Allan’s sheer lack of optimism has lingered on the verge of nihilism. Not that it’s not warranted, especially considering Allan’s compelling and devastating personal marital narrative and the consequential emotional turmoil the Californian faced in the wake of his wife’s suicide. What makes Allan such a wonderful Country singer is he has found a way to channel (not dilute) his authentic life experience into sincere, often painstaking, music that rings with sincerity. His latest album, Get Off on the Pain, continues in that direction.
Surprisingly, the album kicks off with a rowdy, banjo-burner that finds Allan embracing his pain that rings with real masochism and sets a tone for the rest of the collection. In the song, Allan takes his own image and acknowledges the pain has become a significant component into factoring his identity and perhaps, he doesn’t want to let pain go, for letting go of that hurt could mean a piece of himself dying in the process. It’s a deep look into a tortured soul and the title track alone could inspire a psychoanalytical thesis, especially when Allan is able to build up to the hook, “God knows there’s no else to blame / Sometimes I think I get off of the pain”....full text
The9513There’s one man, and only one man, in regular rotation on country radio whose gravel voice can approach the soul-stirring gravitas of American Recordings-era Cash. So it’s only fitting that the title track of Gary Allan’s upcoming eighth studio album finds him proclaiming his affection for “the long shots and the left out lost causes and “hanging out in the back of the pack with the dark horses,” echoing Cash’s own championing of society’s underdogs in “Man in Black.”
But Get Off On The Pain is a long way from Rubin-produced Cash, or any kind of Cash at all. It’s commercial country circa 2010, with a hard-rocking edge and many of the typical production tendencies everyone loves to hate. Those hoping for a drastic departure from the sound of lead single “Today” will need to adjust their expectations a bit, especially for the album’s front half: Three of the first five songs feature a string section.
Though it sprang from the pens of various outside songwriters, the album’s first half has a certain story arc to it. The grinding swagger of “Get Off on the Pain” gives way to the raw confession of “I Think I’ve Had Enough,” which finds Allan counting the costs of his rambling lifestyle and admitting that he’s not so tough after all. “Today” suggests the confession came too late, as he watches the woman he loves walk down the aisle with the guy who treated her right. This sends him reeling back toward escapist swagger on the guitar-driven rocker “That Ain’t Gonna Fly,” which begins boldly: “I’m gonna show her that I can forget her/that little girl’s loving meant nothing to me.” Inevitably, it’s not long before the walls come crashing down again: “Kiss Me When I’m Down” finds him back in string-soaked mid-tempo territory, pleading for one last abusive, short-lived fling with an ex-lover. It seems that even a grossly dysfunctional relationship is better than none at all.
Following the tumultuous first half, the last five songs–which strike a more settled and contented tone–come almost as catharsis. All were co-written by Allan, working with a rotating cast of tunesmiths that more often than not includes Odie Blackmon. As the emotional turmoil subsides, so too does the excessive reliance on dramatic string sections. “Along the Way” begs forgiveness for unspecified past wrongs, with an (allegedly) changed man admitting that “I just got a little lost along the way.” “We Fly by Night” sways dreamily along, as a throbbing drum beats out the rhythms of marital bliss. “She Gets Me” finds Allan grateful for the good-hearted (and conveniently one-dimensional) woman who has learned to live with his “wild and crazy rock ‘n’ roll life.” Perhaps best of all is “When You Give Yourself Away,” a lovely rumination on opening up your heart and giving of yourself, of taking a chance on life and love. Chuck Wicks would murder this, but Gary Allan sells it with personality to spare....full text
RoughstockGary Allan is a bit of a conundrum, to say the least. After scoring his first Number One in 2003 with "Man to Man," he managed to send two more singles to the top of the charts, but somewhere after "Nothing On but the Radio," all that momentum came to a screeching halt. There isn't even any correlation as to what manages to become a hit and what doesn't — the risky "Life Ain't Always Beautiful" went to #4, while the radio-friendlier "Today" barely made top 20.
So many of his past singles put his rough, unpolished voice at odds with production that was too slick and cautious — again, the swelling strings and power-ballad chorus of "Today" are a prime example. "Get Off on the Pain" stands out by putting the guitars and drums up front, making for a muscular, lean sound that could hardly be a better match for his raw, emotive brand of singing. Of course, both line up nicely with the song's premise: a man who ponders just why he sticks with "women that love to do [him] wrong," why he keeps picking fights, and just why he doesn't get happy until it rains. Indeed, he seems to think that he "get[s] off on the pain," and he knows that he'll never change his ways....full text
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