The Gaslight Anthem, 'Handwritten'
Dec. 26, 2008, I'm lying in bed at my parent's house after being very sick the Christmas night before. By the afternoon, I start to feel better so I decide to cash in credit and buy some music. While looking through a list of albums, one stood out. Four guys were staring into the lens in leather jackets. It had pure red-blooded rock’n’roll all over it. And I bought it based on the cover alone.
By the time I finished listening to The '59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem straight through, I was astounded. Listen, I know what you are thinking but I honestly had never been so moved by an album in one listen. It really is inexplicable. Believe me, I’ve tried to make people understand.
My first thought as the last note vibrated out into the ether was, "I'll never be able to listen to this for the first time ever again." And now the only album I've listened to more may be Darkness on the Edge of Town by Springsteen. But I never saw the influence the Boss had on TGA till later. I kept telling people it was The Clash meets West Side Story exploding in The Replacements’ garage.
That was almost four years ago.
Since then we've had American Slang, a great album, which simply suffered from comparison to the one that hooked us all. Last year we were graced with Brian Fallon's wonderful side project, The Horrible Crowes' Elsie.
But we've been waiting. Not so much for a repeat of The '59 Sound as much as a repeat of all that raw emotion and energy. All the intensity and wonder. All the youth crashing into the retaining wall of adulthood. All those lines sung in a way that makes our souls shiver.
And we have it with the release of Handwritten. On their fourth album, Brian Fallon and the guys from The Gaslight Anthem have their first major record deal and very possibly the Rock album of the year. And I just keep playing it over and over again.
Each of the eleven songs are full to breaking of all that makes rock’n’roll so great—that relentless go for broke explosion of emotion in the midst of daily life. In the liner notes, Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy) writes, “Anyone who has ever been frustrated by anything - a girl, a boy, a job, a self (especially that)—can listen to this music and feel understood.” This is rock’n’roll for the everyman. Every woman. And Fallon reminds us in “Mae” - We work our fingers down to dust/While we wait for Kingdom Come/With the radio on...
In a musical landscape full of quirky and ironic tunes, The Gaslight Anthem serves up gritty gut-level, heart-on-your-sleeve music. Handwritten is relentlessly sincere. From the opening rollicking track, "45," to the closing beauty, "National Anthem," this is a soul wide-open album. (But make sure you spend the extra few dollars for the Deluxe Version... “Blue Dahlia” will make you wonder why it’s a bonus track.)
And all the subjects we wrestle with in the ditches and dining rooms of our life are present in these songs - death, lost love, should-have-beens, hopes, dreams, and the questions of faith. The Gaslight Anthem serves them up as though all of this really matters. There are no shadows of shoe-gazing “whatevers” in Fallon’s lyrics. And you'll want to sing along as loud as you can to each one. Over and over again.