A palpable sensation of fame slipping desperately through their fingers permeated 2010’s American Slang. Steady but sadly uninspired, The Gaslight Anthem failed to recapture or expand upon the soul crushing urgency of The ’59 Sound, one the 2000s’ great LPs. It must have been a hard pill to swallow. Brian Fallon’s finest moment is still marred by relative obscurity; a fate Handwritten, the New Jersey four piece’s major label debut, will not share.
Faced with a vigorous promotional push and broader audience, Fallon appears to have answered in kind. Handwritten is a bigger and more universal affair than either Sink Or Swim (2007) or The ’59 Sound (2008), as The Gaslight Anthem verge on self-parody. The new album, led by the chest thumping duo “45” and “Handwritten”, sees Fallon giving himself over to the rose tinted warmth of nostalgia.
At their best, the vintage cars and classic flicks provided respite from the torturous and turbulent relationships of the present. They inspired The Gaslight Anthem’s carefully crafted narrators, providing an earthy moral core for his hard-pressed lovers to fall back upon. On “Handwritten” Fallon simply retreats into the world of old records and scribbled notes - he feels less the Renaissance man and more the delusional escapist.
Still, if The Gaslight Anthem words feel more forced than poetic, Fallon’s voice still carries a frightful sense of desperation as the arrangements swell triumphantly. The sights were certainly set high. Each track seems set to bounce across stadium stages, as sweeping ballads cascade into call and repeat choruses, strained la-la-las, and even the occasional squealing solo (“Mulholland Drive”).
The sweeping narratives no longer evoke tears, but they certainly surge with prideful resolution and, by the album’s end, The Gaslight Anthem come good. “National Anthem” drops the stadium-sized ticks and sepia tinted illusions. Fallon stands alone at his acoustic guitar lamenting his lost American love, struggling in the face of technological advancement and the changing world. He may have left it too late, but that doesn’t make Fallon’s moment of clarity any less beautiful, as he perfect diagnoses both The Gaslight Anthem and Handwritten’s ultimate failing: “I re-live too many ghosts”.
Buy If: Cosy nostalgia and vintage illusions set to a great American soundtrack sounds intriguing.
Skip If: Borrowed sentiment and appropriated cultural touchstones are no replacement for first hand emotion and the thrill of the new.
Best Track: National Anthem
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