jason stives turns the record over…
Admittedly, most modern critics, rock ‘n’ roll or even the generalized “rock” is a dirty word. Somewhere between the swell of the music scene post-grunge and right as acts like Coldplay and Maroon5 became the only hit makers on the Billboard charts associated as “rock” bands, subjectivity and labeling became far more important to music lovers to distinguish from the norm. However, there is an audience that longs for the days before justifying those labels and feel rock ‘n’ roll is still a state of mind worth reliving. Reflection is admirable only when it’s done by those in need of reflection so for a core audience, The Gaslight Anthem was exactly the right reflection for one generation and not the next.
The New Brunswick quartet’s breakthrough 2008 release The 59 Sound was a cool ode to daddy’s radio, a way of remembering when rock music mattered in all its different colors and not under what banner it was. The band’s combination of blue eyed soul singing, fast powered Clash like rhythms, and a dash of the Jersey Shore sound put them on the cusp of house hold name, even if they couldn’t fit in with Top 40 radio. Unsurprisingly, their follow up, 2010’s American Slang followed much of the same pattern but worries of becoming stale began to fade out on tracks like “The Diamond Church Street Choir” and “We Did It When We Were Young.”
Handwritten, the band’s fourth studio album has propositioned us to look at them differently and their sound is far more polished and more refined, leaving no room to be just a reflection of their influences and more of demonstration of their capabilities. At times, the record is anthematic as demonstrated by the album’s lead single “45,” a powerful spat of emotions in which lead singer Brian Fallon pleads with the listener to “see his heart, see how it bleeds.” It’s very poetic to name a single after a dead art form, but in a digitally branded world, the Gaslight Anthem doesn’t care where it’s heard as long it’s heard loud and clear.
As a singer, Fallon has ditched the Springsteen comparisons in his voice for grits and grime, pouring out his heart full of angst and love (“Handwritten”) and the occasional ‘sha la la’ (“Here Comes My Man”). Even more so, the songwriting has gotten a lot less reflective and lot more actual. “Keepsake” remembers only briefly that it has been 31 years since you last held her in your arms but that you will survive without her. Memories quickly fade and defining what the band means to them and to no one else on songs like “Biloxi Parish” and “Mulholland Drive” becomes an imperative part of their growth.
Gaslight Anthem runs a fine line on the straight and narrow of rock music but they do so for the sake of the passion and not the state of the art form. Handwritten once again provides another string of solid rock songs peppered with a punk attitude and strong, relatable emotions. It echoes with brevity and croons with a little more desire. It’s the Gaslight Anthem: same car model with a little extra polish on the chrome.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)