Tom Gabel - Heart Burns
Record Label: Sire
Release Date: October 28, 2008
It was a definite surprise when it was announced that Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel would be releasing a solo EP. I was certainly interested to hear what it would sound like, especially after the recent evolution of his band after their major label signing. I expected a stripped-down affair, in the vein of the many other recent punk lead-singers-gone-solo, but I was surprised at the musical diversity on Heart Burns. One thing that wasn’t at all surprising is where the record finds Gabel on the lyrical front.
The album opens with “Random Hearts,” which features Gabel’s signature yelp propelled by an unexpected post-punk electro-beat. It falls as much into the realm of powerpop as anything on New Wave. “Conceptual Paths” has a feel that’s very similar to the first Nightwatchman album and has Gabel waxing philosophical, with somewhat Graffin-esque lyrics like, “Abstract delusions of a free mind / You don’t owe anything to anyone.” Gabel’s first overtly political message comes out on “Cowards Sing at Night,” a stab at Presidential candidate John McCain with the lyrics “Come back home Johnny / Come back home from Vietnam / Your war is over,” essentially stating that much of the Arizona Senator’s appeal lies in his status as a former prisoner-of-war and in the sense of nationalistic chauvinism that he has come to represent and that many of his supporters espouse.
Gabel’s political rant continues on “Amputations,” though you don’t realize it at first. It opens with classic rock ‘n roll bombast and the early lyric “Young love / Doesn’t everyone deserve to be young and in love,” and has you thinking it’s going to be a light-hearted tune, until he hits with “Amputations coming home from our father's wars,” and “What kind of future are you promising us / Just another generation living under threat of the bomb.” “Anna Is a Stool Pigeon” opens up with an essential element on a punk singer’s solo record that’s been absent thus far: harmonica. No, we couldn’t quite make it though the whole record without it. It’s a lively Tom Petty flavored number about an anarchist falling in love with and confiding in an FBI informant, and subsequently being turned in.
“Harsh Realms” is a gently-strummed break in the harsh political dialog, leading up to the closer, “100 Years of War.” That title is a reference to Senator McCain’s assertion that a United States occupation of Iraq lasting over a hundred years would be just fine with him. The song is about what’s at stake this election year, and calls out for people to recognize that we currently find ourselves in an historic time in our nation’s history. I, for one, have been following the polls and election coverage since before the caucuses in Iowa and it’s been a fascinating race, a time in my life I’ll surely never forget. Heart Burns was fittingly released exactly a week prior to Election day, a day when Americans are called upon to make a choice, this time for “change” or “more of the same.” By the time this review is posted, we’ll know what choice was made. Regardless, Heart Burns will live on as a stirring reminder of this moment in history.