The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

It’s been a little while since I reviewed an album on here.  I’m not saying nothing good has come out, but I feel like I have to put a whole lot more effort into reviewing an album than a beer.  Not sitting in front of a computer or working in a place where I could really listen to an album for review makes it difficult for me to fully listen to and appreciate what I’ve picked up recently.  Then an album comes out that I have been looking forward to for months, and I can’t help but find time to listen to it.  Last week, while sitting on the beach, I listened to a few albums nearly every day.  So here comes the first music review in months.

Gaslight Anthem isn’t exactly a brand new band.  Hailing from my home state of New Jersey, this is their fourth album in a career that spans back to their inception in 2006.  Their initial album, Sink or Swim, helped them get their feet under them and develop a following.  The next two albums helped them build a huge following; however, all three albums were on small record labels.  This album has been released on Mercury Records which you will find is associated with Island Def Jam and the Universal Music Group.  Thus, this is somewhat their big album to “make it”.  I haven’t heard them on the radio yet in this area, but I heard them multiple times on some trips to PA this summer.  Of course, this gets the high school version of me mad that they would “sell out”, but I’m just glad they haven’t gone and broken up.

Gaslight Anthem continue in the great tradition of music the forefathers of NJ set out before them.  Bruce Springsteen sang about the life he grew up in and around.  He sang, and still continues to sing, about the life of the middle class factory worker and other people struggling to get by.  Bon Jovi even did this to some extent in some of their songs.  Listen to “Living on a Prayer”.  Anyway, Gaslight comes across with a similar message and sound to their music.  No they aren’t an 80’s glam rock band, but they have a gritty sound meant for hardworking Americans.  Their lyrics also comes across in much the same way.  They sing about people struggling with many facets of life.

The first song on the album, “45”, also happens to be the first single released for the album. It’s an upbeat song that hooks the listener and really gets you singing along right from the start.  It’s also an excellent middle of the road song to introduce someone new to the style Gaslight has been producing for years.  The melodic nature of the band really comes across on this and many other songs on this album.  Although singer Brian Fallon’s voice doesn’t exude the tone of a typical melodic singer, you can tell how the music is an entire package.  It allows for Fallon’s gritty voice to create great melodies that only compliment the music.

Gaslight tends to produce two different types of songs.  They make songs like “45” that are upbeat and get you moving.  But, they also create some really surprisingly good slow songs.  “Handwritten” is another great upbeat song on the record.  Although Fallon actually starts with a little more of his quieter approach on the singing, the upbeat drumming and guitars keep the song fast paced.  “Handwritten” topically follows the same themes as another song on the album.  It talks about the emotion involved with something being handwritten.  “Too Much Blood” is a much slower song, but you can tie the actual act of writing something emotional to “Handwritten”.  The lyrics, “What can I keep for myself if I tell you my hell? / What would be left to take to my grave? / And what’s left for you, my lover to save? / What’s left for only you to take? / If I put too much blood on the page”, help display the emotion of letting it all go through the written word.  Obviously Fallon understands the power of the written language.  “Too Much Blood” does happen to be one of my favorite songs on the album.  The music is quite a bit slower than some of the other songs, which allows Fallon’s voice to really shine through.  He almost sounds like he is in pain about revealing too much of himself.

There are certainly a few other really good songs on this album as well. “Keepsake” is similar in sound to “Too Much Blood”.  The music tones down to allow Fallon’s voice to really take control.  The chorus picks up musically to match the passion in the vocals. I really like both “Mae” and “National Anthem” as well.   “Mae” features some of my favorite lyrics because they have some of the prototypical lyrics for Gaslight.  He sings about both “Betty Davis eyes” and waiting for kingdom come “with the radio on”.  For those of you who aren’t Gaslight fans, they are lyrics that have shown up in previous songs.  While “Mae” is a slower song on the album, “National Anthem” is the slowest one.  The music is completely stripped down to just a guitar and some stringed instruments.  Fallon’s voice is slightly more melodic with only a little hint of grit.  However, it seems to just tell the story of struggling through life.  It’s something really different for them, but it is a great song.

There is really only one song I don’t like on the album.  Gaslight, however, is only slightly at fault for this.  They decided to cover “Sliver” by Nirvana.  Perhaps this speaks a little more to their influences; however, I personally don’t really like Nirvana at all.  I immediately thought it sounded like a Nirvana cover the second I heard it.  The only reason I don’t like it is because it doesn’t feature the same melodic style I’ve come to enjoy from Gaslight.

If you happen to pick up this CD, you should definitely check out their back catalog.  Although they have cleaned up their style a little, they are still sticking to the style that gained them followers in the first place.  Sure, They’ve joined a bigger record label, and I’ve heard them on the radio, but they aren’t looking to lose their original fans either.

Teacher Grade: A

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