Solo albums are a tricky thing. How does an artist “do their own thing” and manage to make a relevant and enjoyable record without sounding like an ego gone awry? Luckily for lead singer Tom Gabel of Against Me!, he’s only releasing an EP (roughly half the length of a normal album). Entitled Heart Burns, it is a dumping ground for a loose collection of songs rather than one cohesive album.
Gabel is the primary creative force behind Gainesville, Florida’s anarchist punk group Against Me!, so listening to this EP, I can’t help but wonder why he needed to release these tunes on his own. Songs like “Cowards Sing At Night” and “Harsh Realms” would fit right at home with early Against Me! records like The Acoustic EP and Reinventing Axl Rose. And for me, those songs stand out the best.
It isn’t that I dislike the new “direction” of Against Me!; Last year’s New Wave was its best album since its early stuff, but I really like Tom Gabel stripped down to only a guitar, while raging on in his half-poetic/half-practical growl about John McCain, a la “Cowards Sing At Night,” or feeling overwhelmed, as he does on “Harsh Realms.”
The other tracks on Heart Burns aren’t necessarily big stretches for Against Me!’s usual material either. The Cars-esque swagger of “Random Hearts” and the drum-machine stutter of “Conceptual Paths” both showcase fun instrumentation, and “Anna Is a (Fucking) Stool Pigeon,” sounds at home with mid-60s Bob Dylan, but the lyrics pretty much cover the same territory as any other Against Me! record does.
This release perfectly coincides with the 2008 election, and as I speak, I already voted (and went to IHOP to celebrate!). On “100 Years Of War,” Gabel speaks directly to us, singing, “Well don’t miss your chance to see it / While it’s all happening / These are all once in a life time events / And time will wait for no one.” The song is an urgent call to participate, to no longer be passive, because we live in a special time where the things we do can make waves and reverberate across borders. He lists all the terrible things going on in the world right now, but still has hope, in spite of everything.
I really dig Heart Burns, despite its hodgepodge nature (and the narrow-minded silliness present in “Anna Is A (Fucking) Stool Pigeon”). Was it completely necessary for Gabel to go solo? Probably not, but it’s still a nice EP that will encapsulate this time when the future was on everyone’s minds and cynicism is just begging to be overturned.