As 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”.
But Allan follows up his confession of “There’s a side of me that just won’t stop” with the defeatist attitude of “I Think I’ve Had Enough” before succumbing to his masochism again by attending the woman of his dream’s wedding in the soaring “Today”. There’s not a hint of hope in the way Allan admits, “Today, today it really hit me / That she don’t really miss me” and when his rough-around-the-edges voice slowly enunciates the two syllables of “today” it’s the aural effect of an execution. In “Kiss Me When I’m Down”, Allan begs for a former flame to return, if only for a night. He realizes the chance of a relationship is extinct but just a memory will do, only if that memory turns into a pain. Allan’s desire to be hurt drives the man to obsession, going as far as keeping his lover’s Zeppelin case just to have a reason to call her up.
Like his previous two albums, Allan makes sure to take the time to experiment with some new sonic textures as he makes his pilgrimage across his painful landscape. He pulls off a fully convincing cow-punk snarl on “That Ain’t Gonna Fly” (it would be magnificent to see Allan to grab something from the Old 97’s catalogue for the next album), turns in a soulful and seductive slow-burner on “We Fly By Night”, takes a successful swing at gospel with a marvelous falsetto vocal turn on “When You Give Yourself Away” and lights “Long Summer Days” (a deluxe addition exclusive) into a storm of fiery emotions with a genuine, astonishing funk. That Allan can so easily adapt to these various sonic templates reconfirms his status as Nashville’s most talented male vocalist as well as proving his ambition and range of scope for his artistic vision.
Despite the various gems on the album, the thesis of the piece is found on “Along the Way”, where Allan pleads guilty to his sins, “Scarecrows and devils are the only things out this late / What that says about me, yeah, it’s probably true”. Get Off on the Pain relinquishes as many answers as it elicits questions, never once does Allan apologize or even ask for sympathy, instead the singer cathartically spills his narrative across the span of ten tracks and leaves the listener to take what they will.
It’s hard to think the man who once sang the novel hit “Man to Man” would turn into the artist that is Allan today and yet Gary Allan has released a string of albums that delve into his personal masochism, pain and identity with the latest release being the zenith. There’s several superlatives that could embellish Get Off on the Pain: contender for year’s end best of list, insightful and rare look into a singer’s psyche, a collection of top-grade Country music or soulful purging. All of them apply, and then some.