“Singing oh sha-la-la-la, oh sha-la-la-la, listen honey here comes my man”- “Here Comes My Man”
The Gaslight Anthem is now one of those important bands. How do 4 guys from New Brunswick, NJ become ‘important’? It’s pretty simple really, you make one, and you only need one, masterpiece record.
In 2008, Brian Fallon and Co. released The ’59 Sound, a record steeped in Springsteen, punk, and soul. It recalled the classics, yet blazed a fresh path for rock and roll music in the 21st Century. So, that’s how you become ‘important,’ people like me write things like that.
The blow back of being ‘important’ is inevitable and almost comically predictable. Every record you release after that masterpiece will be viewed through the prism of that masterpiece. It’s just too easy for fans and critics alike to reference the masterpiece as a touchstone of the band’s sound and its evolution on the current record release. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. You can’t talk about music without talking about other music. Or at least you can’t if you are actually writing about the music. Even if I wrote a review of Handwritten, the new album by The Gaslight Anthem, without mentioning The ’59 Sound, I would still talk about Springsteen, Petty, and on this particular record- Nirvana. However, such an exercise would be silly, because Handwritten sounds like The Gaslight Anthem. I can say that, because they are one of those ‘important’ bands.
To give Mr. Fallon credit, he leaned into this one. When talking about Handwritten, he frequently said that it was a conscious attempt by the band to reach back to the ’59 Sound. I see where he was going with the comparison. Handwritten sounds relaxed and revved up with the kind of energy that sucked everyone in on The ’59 Sound. However, what makes Handwritten interesting is the evolution of Gaslight’s sound from Sink Or Swim through American Slang and now Handwritten. The guitars are revved up beyond 11 and the sound is thicker and more produced than ever. Fallon’s lyrics, long considered the band’s secret weapon, are much more personal on this record. The chorus’s are huge, but the detailed verses of American Slang are absent as Fallon presents a diary like record above love and life. Lead single “45” is exhibit A in this transition. Catchy as hell with a huge chorus, the song is a post break-up anthem. The closing “National Anthem” is another favorite, as the band slows down for an atmospheric-acoustic farewell to the girl Fallon is struggling to get over in “45.”
In summary, Handwritten is not The ’59 Sound, but it’s still The Gaslight Anthem you fell in love with 4 years ago. Fallon may not be listening to his grandfather’s radio anymore, but hey if you don’t like it, you can always turn the record over.
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd