While it rekindles that same Jersey pride from previous releases, The Gaslight Anthem’s fourth album feels more important in a time when Americans especially need rousing anthems to get behind.
2012, Mercury Records
8.5 / 10.0
Springsteen comparisons come natural for The Gaslight Anthem. Like the Boss, the Gaslight Anthem’s songs derive from blue collar experiences, appealing to union guys and downtrodden youngsters just trying to make their loved ones happy and find more meaning in the world. When their driving, garage rock anthems blast through the stereo, it’s difficult not to become invested and sing along in a ragged, unnaturally aged voice. Handwritten, The Gaslight Anthem’s fourth album, feels familiar. The band teamed up once again with past Springsteen producer Brendan O’Brien. And while it rekindles that same Jersey pride from previous releases, it also feels decidedly different; perhaps more important in a time when Americans especially need rousing anthems to get behind.
The Gaslight Anthem’s songs always yearn for simpler times when radio made rock stars rather than the Internet. Lovers were called “baby” or “honey”, and the rock-chorus-rock structure was the only conceivable way of writing a hit song. Formulated decades ago, this strain of American rock culture has been instinctively bred into generations. The Gaslight Anthem could have the best grasp of classic American garage rock than any other band fronting the same vintage chops, and it’s a key reason why Gaslight Anthem’s music is so accessible.
Handwritten runs through themes of love, family, and country with blistering guitar rock, and Brian Fallon’s virile singing. Sounding as though his voice has been punished by years of countless cigarettes and alcohol, Fallon’s strained vocals are passionate, charismatic, and ALL man – sometimes delivered with a growl or howling screech. “Turn the record over / I’ll see you on the flip side”, sings Fallon on opener, “45”, possibly the band’s best single to date.
Handwritten’s lyrics are smart, yet never let listeners feel disconnected. The songs also feel more personal than ever. “Too Much Blood” seems to comment on Fallon’s difficulty with maintaining privacy in his life when his songwriting demands personal experiences. “If I put too much blood on the page / And if I just tell the truth / Are there only lies left for you?” The preceding song, “Keepsake”, is even more reflective, dealing with abandonment issues while growing up and accented by a bluesy harmonica throughout.
Handwritten’s best moment comes in its closing track, “National Anthem”, that could just as easily be about America as well as a former lover. The acoustic guitar and strings arrangement creates a somber tone while Fallon contemplates technology ruining faith with fact and trying to make someone believe in hope for the future when all they can understand is their current predicament. It’s a great commentary on an increasingly pessimistic populous disenchanted from possibly knowing too much. This album may be Handwritten, but it comes straight from the heart.
Purchase: The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten