The idea of something “handwritten” seems almost foreign in this day and age. With the spread of e-communications, computers, and the advancement of technology in general, the commonality of handwriting something is rare, but adds to its significance. The significance of handwriting is one of two things that The Gaslight Anthem seem to want to harken back to on their fourth studio album, Handwritten, released July 24th on Mercury Records. Radio also plays a significant part in the romance that frontman Brian Fallon conjures on the album, as he sings in “Mulholland Drive,” “And who came to drive you around this town/Like I used to drive you all around, with the radio on?”
One can wonder what the source of Fallon’s deep sense of romance and drama comes from in his writing. Many can point to the his tutelage under Bruce Springsteen’s writing as one source, but even then, punk writers like Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten also feed into Fallon’s music lineage. When Fallon sings, on the title track, “There’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same,” it has the dramatic sense of Springsteen, mixed with the darkness and brutality of writers like Rotten or Glenn Danzig (of the Misfits). One place where Springsteen clearly shines through is on “Keepsake,” which, with its haunting harmonica and ascending guitar riff, sounds like the corruption the dream of “The Promised Land” (from Springsteen’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town), with the narrator of “Promised Land” no longer clear, and haunted by the heaviness of his failures.
The lyrics are not the album’s only strength, for the boys of Gaslight prove that they still can weave both interesting and bright, upbeat instrumentation together. “45,” the album’s first track, and another form of Fallon’s romancing of the past, has fantastic interplay between Fallon’s rhythm guitar, and the rapid action of the lead guitar, with some of the better moments featuring the exchange between Fallon’s bouncing, clean guitar and the rapid, distorted riffs of the lead.
The one flaw of the album is that it stalls out a bit after the two-minute gem “Howl,” and the closing track of the CD version, “National Anthem.” The three songs in between are not inherently bad, but the slower rhythms and the weaker lyrics leave a sense of longing after the walloping punch of the album’s first seven tracks. “Anthem,” though, is the album’s one acoustic track, and serves as an interesting commentary on today’s America, and today’s world, as Fallon questions, “What’s left for God to teach from His throne?/And who will forgive us when He’s gone?”
The iTunes Deluxe edition is what you want for your money’s worth, as it comes with four bonus tracks, including a cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver,” where Fallon does his best Kurt Cobain impression, and the rest of the band mirror’s Nirvana’s heavy sound to a T. Other tracks include a decent cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” and the hidden, bright, powerhouse “Blue Dahlia,” easily one of the album’s best tracks, featuring a slightly wider sonic landscape than the preceding tracks. This version of the album closes with “Teenage Rebellion,” that, while seems self-explanatory (especially within the context of punk rock) functions much like “National Anthem.” “Rebellion,” with the masterful instrumentation based around acoustic guitar and bittersweet piano, the dances between light notes and heavy chords, serves as a mourning of the consequences of teenage rebellion; what happens when the immortal young man has an eye-to-eye with mortality that leaves him changed. At the border of youth and age, The Gaslight Anthem brings some punk rock rebellion and some maturity, and come out with their best record to date.
- Originally published on The Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio's music blog, on 10/10/2012