Album Review: Gary Allan – Get Off On The Pain

C.M. Wilcox | February 26th, 2010

gapainThere’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.

The emotional arc of Get Off On The Pain–from the disorder and drama of the first half to the relative peace and contentment of the second–makes this feel like the album that finally (if obliquely) resolves the pent-up tension of Tough All Over. Although 2007′s Living Hard may have been what Allan needed to record at the time, it felt like so much sidestepping. Here, he’s moving the plot forward.

As if to cement that point, the final track directly addresses the personal tragedy looming in Allan’s not-too-distant past. Over sparse accompaniment, the singer begins: “She’s been gone about three years/it’s been a long road and a million tears/I’m moving slow but I’m moving on.” Then the strumming of a single guitar blooms into a full arrangement at just the right moment, like a sudden beam of sunlight through a dusty hotel room window. I’ll leave the whole experience of the track unsullied by further description, but suffice to say that if it were Allan’s final word on the matter, it would be a damn near perfect one.

It’s tempting to say that Get Off on the Pain could use more moments as raw as its finale, but Allan has already made that album, and has never shown much interest in repeating himself. This isn’t the chilling tour de force that Tough All Over was–and it’s sonic worlds away from the cool neotraditonalism of 1999′s Smoke Rings in the Dark–but it is a significant return to form that suggests the singer may be on the verge of another watershed artistic moment. Look for his next album to be a knockout.

4 Stars

3 Pings

  1. [...] today. For a lengthier – and perhaps slightly more informative – treatment, check out the review I wrote for The 9513 a couple weeks [...]
  2. [...] Our review of Gary Allan’s 2010 Album Get Off On The Pain [...]
  3. [...] Gary Allan – ‘No Regrets’ (Get Off On The Pain) I’ve been disappointed by Gary’s musical direction over the past couple of albums, but [...]
  1. Kim
    February 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Glad this got a good review. I am eagerly anticipating March 9th!

  2. Steve Harvey
    February 27, 2010 at 12:36 am

    This is an excellent review, sir. Hope the record lives up to it.

  3. Steve Harvey
    February 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    There are curiously few comments on this entry. I guess Allan has fewer psychotic fanboys/girls (aside from that one in particular) to praise/attack on message boards.

  4. Michelle
    February 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Steve Harvey, you spoke, too soon. I love Gary Allan!

  5. CMW
    February 28, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Next time, I’ll make more outrageous claims.

  6. Michelle
    February 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Can everyone please turn it down a notch? Gary and I are busy blowing smoke rings in the dark!!

  7. Michelle
    February 28, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Sorry, CMW, I meant to say, “Getting off on the pain.”

  8. Steve Harvey
    March 1, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Next time, I’ll make more outrageous claims.
    He did what with a lemur?!

  9. Marie
    March 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you for tweeking my anticipation of Get Off On The Pain even more! Loved the way you described Gary and his music.

    In my 50 + years, Gary has been the only artist that I have loved every cut on every CD – not just a couple, but every one and none get skipped over!

  10. Steve Harvey
    March 2, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    If there were any justice in this world, Allan and Ronnie Dunn would’ve been alternating CMA Male Vocalist Award winners for the past 15 years.

  11. Michelle
    March 2, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Wow, Steve Harvey likes Gary Allan? I guess I had you figured all wrong.

  12. Steve Harvey
    March 2, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Wow, Steve Harvey likes Gary Allan?
    Not sure why you would’ve thought otherwise, but yes, I am indeed a Gary Allan fan. With the exception of some of Living Hard, I think he’s consistently the strongest artist in country music over the last fifteen years. Smoke Rings and Tough All Over are two of my favourite albums.

  13. Michelle
    March 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Steve Harvey, YOU’RE COOL!!

  14. Steve Harvey
    March 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    That’s most gracious of your, Michelle. I wish more people had that reaction to a declaration of Gary Allan fandom.

  15. Janelle
    March 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Love Gary’s music and can’t wait for this new album!! I agree with Steve…Gary should have been getting nominations all along for vocalist of the year — he has an incredible voice, so passionate!

    Does anyone know where Jake Kelly is these days? Miss hearin’ him, too! They were quite the pair!

  16. Steve Harvey
    March 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm
  17. Kelly
    March 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    i absolutely cannot WAIT for the new album to come out! :)

  18. Lisa Marie
    March 9, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I just listened to the entire album after buying it through iTunes, and I can’t even describe how fantastic this CD is.

    It’s classic Gary – always innovative, but true to himself and the music he loves. I won’t even attempt to describe it because everyone needs their own personal listening experience to see what I mean.

    I’ll be ignoring people on the way to class because I’ll have this on my iPod. Pretty soon I’ll start breaking out in song once I memorize all the words.

    It amazes me how Gary’s still “under the radar” – he’s worth a lot more lyrically and vocally than a lot of these pop Country acts. But I digress.

  19. Betty
    March 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Recieved my copy of this CD yesterday and haven’t been able to stop playing it. I really believe this is one of his best! For me, Gary is the best vocalist out there!!

  20. Michelle
    March 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I think Gary Allan could sing ANYTHING and I would love it!

  21. Steve Harvey
    March 9, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    I think Gary Allan could sing ANYTHING and I would love it!
    I completely disagree with this statement, and I would say that it is not true with regarding any recording artist in the history of time.

    I am a huge Gary Allan fan.

    I think he’s a superb vocalist – one of the best alive.

    I love the vast majority of his recorded output.

    He’s cut a few songs I don’t like.

  22. Michelle
    March 9, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Whatever, Steve Harvey, so I was exaggerating a bit! Don’t take your bad day out on me!!

  23. Michelle
    March 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Steve Harvey, I still think you’re cool so don’t get your tie all in a wad! I’m just messing with your mind.

  24. Drew
    March 11, 2010 at 9:52 am

    The way the tracks have been laid out surprises me. Usually an album is top heavy, as to show the listener most of the best material right off the bat. But aside from “Today” which I like, 3 of the first 4 tracks are the weakest, in my opinion.

    I’d be surprised if “Kiss Me When I’m Down” wasn’t a single, as that chorus is just killer.

    In general, I definitely like the album, and its just more consistently stellar work from Allan.

  25. Razor X
    March 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I’m really not enjoying this album at all.

  26. Drew
    March 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    How come? It has some weak songs, but some good ones as well. I’d agree with the 4 stars.

  27. Razor X
    March 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    It’s just not to my taste. The string arrangements are overblown and it’s just too rock-oriented. I don’t think it’s a return to form at all. The second half is better than the first half, but this album is not nearly as good as his earlier work. This makes three albums in a row that have been disappointments.

  28. sam (sam)
    March 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I’ve bought some of Gary Allan’s past work but I haven’t been impressed enough by any of the singles he’s released in the last 4 years or so to wanna check this out. “Today” and “Get off on the Pain” just don’t appeal to me. I liked his early work but he has gone in a direction that I don’t much care for I guess. Oh well. I saw him in concern in 99 and he was great.

  29. Steve Harvey
    March 11, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    This makes three albums in a row that have been disappointments.
    Why were you disappointed by TOUGH ALL OVER?

    As for this record, I like it a lot more than LIVING HARD – Kiss Me When I’m Down is a standout, I like the title track, No Regrets is growing on me. In general, I’d prefer more restrained production.

  30. Razor X
    March 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Tough All Over was better than Living Hard or the current album but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did his previous work. There were a few songs on it that I really liked, but I don’t think it’s all that interesting if you don’t know the backstory.

  31. Steve Harvey
    March 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    That’s an interesting observation. Personally, I’ve found it’s the album of his that I’ve most easily been able to convert people to who don’t know who he is. Certainly more than SMOKE RINGS IN THE DARK, which I think is probably his finest record.

  32. Scooter
    March 15, 2010 at 12:49 am

    I agree with the naysayers on this one. I was really looking forward to this album but i’m a little bummed out. Nothing on this album is really bad but its dull. Also seems not raw enough. I like the older stuff (90s) of Gary Allan’s like “I don’t look back” and “Don’t tell mama”.

  33. Steve Harvey
    March 15, 2010 at 3:12 am

    “Don’t tell mama”.
    One of the great modern country songs.

  34. Scooter
    March 16, 2010 at 3:32 am

    I noticed with any Gary Allan album that I bought over the years that the songs really grow on you. I’m already starting to like this one a little better after a few days.

  35. McKay
    March 17, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Gary Allan is the MAN! He is my favorite artist by far. I do wish however, that he would choose some of his singles differently. I’m starting to think it’s self inflicting that he ‘Fly’s under the radar.’ Maybe he prefers it that way…?

  36. Steve Harvey
    March 19, 2010 at 12:26 am

    I do wish however, that he would choose some of his singles differently.
    According to some interviews I’ve read, he doesn’t choose his singles – the label does. He stopped trying to effect those decisions a while back. So if you think the wrong songs are going to radio, blame MCA.

  37. Adrian
    March 25, 2010 at 5:36 am

    It’s growing on me. Like earlier posters, his albums do tend to do that for me, but it’s not grabbing me in the same way that his early neotraditional output did.

    I too have been waiting for more in his early style, and have been a little disappointed with the last 3 albums. Having said that, I am a fan & for me GA still stands head & shoulders above a lot of the other artists receiving airplay these days. Is that because he’s really good & has stayed reasonably true, or is it because “the tide went out” with regard to credible artists to compare him with? Perhaps a bit of both.

  38. Ken
    April 15, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    His earlier stuff had humor which showed his personality such as “What Would Willie Do” or “Alright Guy”. It was good to hear mixed in with the heavier stuff which was also good. Now I don’t see what makes him different. Now he or his label are trying to crank out another “Tough Little Boys” fluff hit.

  39. Leeann Ward
    April 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I think I’d like Tough All Over even if I didn’t know the backstory. To me, the songs were interesting, both lyrically and melodically. I liked a lot of the production choices too. I agree that the second half of this album is better than the first though.

  40. jason
    April 20, 2010 at 11:17 am

    i hope you ment chuck wicks would murder this in a bad way because he’s not even close to gary allan

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