Sound: Odds are you'll listen to this album purely because you're a fan of Against Me! Ffor the large part you will not be disappointed, as Gabel delivers what is expected of him: vicious chord work and vocals of raw power. His vocals hit their peak in "Harsh Realms", an entirely acoustic effort that marks an album highlight, and maybe would have fit nicely into an Against Me! acoustic album.
However, this is definitely an album on which Gabel has explored other musical avenues, with varied success. The first sound you hear on "Heart Burns" is the unmistakable sound of a cheap drum machine, which immediately had me bracing myself for the very worst. The song then picks up with light electric guitar and flange-packed bassline, just about saving it. This song, "Random Hearts", is a good song, just in this case poorly produced. The other particularly noticeable track in terms of sound is undoubtedly "Anna Is A Stool Pigeon". This song has a real folk feel to it and features Butch Vig on the drums and Chuck Ragan on the harmonica and backing vocals. This is a very successful collaboration amongst the three punk figures looking to embrace a new direction. Overall though, the sound of "Heart Burns" is generally unimpressive, due to the use of drum machines, quieter guitars and a general lack of musicianship, bar "Anna Is A Stool Pigeon". // 6
Lyrics: I may be a little biased on this as Tom Gabel is easily one of my favourite singers and lyricists. "Conceptual Paths" is possibly the most interesting lyrical effort here, discussing very deep ideas of human nature; this is a song written with a real open mind, and it is lyrically excellent. "Anna Is A Stool Pigeon" recounts a story of FBI deception with a sense of sympathy and good humour, making this another stand out. "Harsh Realms", though a little ambiguous seems to speak very clearly with lyrics that are open to interpretation, whilst "100 Years Of War" seems to be a summation of recent American history. Though the title of "Heart Burns" may connote themes of a break-up album, Gabel's lyrical subjects are varied and thoroughly compelling in all cases. All this goes without mentioning the matter of Gabel's voice, which is as strong as ever here, proving he can work acoustically as well as with a raging punk band behind him. Those who are familiar with Against Me! will be aware of Gabel's vocal talents, and will not be let down with this album. // 9
Overall Impression: I would love Tom Gabel to release another solo album, perhaps after another with Against Me! This is an album of real promise, and in places excellence has already been reached. With a better production team behind his potential next album, Gabel could well create a masterpiece. Whilst "Heart Burns" does fall short of that mark, it is a good first effort, mainly down to the fantastic lyrics and the way they are delivered. If you are either a fan of Against Me! or just someone who wants to listen to a punk artist broadening his horizons, this is definitely an album to buy. // 7