Jul 17, 2012
ALBUM REVIEW: THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM “HANDWRITTEN”
review by Keeyahtay Lewis
I live in a small town right outside of New Brunswick, NJ. For the last 6 years I have lived in the shadow of The Gaslight Anthem. I have friends who are friends with guys in the band, and for as long as I can remember I kept hearing how good they were. They played basements and The Court Tavern minutes from my house. For the longest time, though, I didn’t really give them a real chance.
Then their last album came out and the incredible song “Bring It On” hooked me a little. Brian Fallon’s side project The Horrible Crowes came out with Elsie and I was hooked a little more. Then in May I finally saw them play, twice in a month actually in Brooklyn and at Bamboozle, and that was it for me. Like everyone else in NJ, I came to love this band that grew up minutes from me.
A couple tracks leaked early and I was immediately blown away by “45″. Today I was able to stream their new album Handwritten, with “45″ being their opening track; I listened to the album at least 5 times today back to back. Filled with hooks and tattoo-worthy lyrics, it has become an instant favorite.
As I already said, “45″ is a killer track. A great way to open up this album. A song about loss and regret, about letting go of someone you never thought you would have to live without. Although the lyrics might be a little sad, it’s upbeat tempo and sing along chorus instantly gets stuck in your head. “Hey, turn the record over / Hey, I’ll see you on the flip side / There you go, turn the key and engine over / Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.” It is a pretty perfect lead single and opener to this album.
I would say that Handwritten is easily the band’s most accessible work. It combines the rawness of The 59′ Sound with the confidence and soul of American Slang and evenElsie. The songs flow together perfectly and there is never even a slight twinge of wanting to skip a track. Fallon is the principal song writer of the band, but the rest of the guys do more than just back him up. The guitar work on this especially stands out for me. Even as I write this the 30 second solo in Mullholland Drive seems like it was written for guitar player Alex Rosamilia to play in front of a packed, sweaty crowd. I can picture him at the front of the stage ripping this song apart with a thousand hands outstretched. Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz keep the album chugging forward on bass and drums.
Handwritten is at it’s core, and upbeat album. Full of guitar riffs and vocals that beg to be listened to as you speed down the road. “Too Much Blood” is a bit of a quieter moment, but by no means any less powerful. Built around great ballsy guitar work, Fallon’s voice has never sounded better. “I am no angel/But I got nothing to hide/ Can you say the same thing/For yourself, tonight?” He doesn’t hold back and when his voice changes to sing “Now I am no Devil/ But I got things on my mind” it feels like he is hurling these lyrics straight into your heart. This song contains a really solid, scorching guitar solo as well. “Keepsake” and “Here Comes My Man” and both strong tracks full of heart. Like the rest, they are begging to be sung along to.
There has always been a lot of talk about the band’s influences, and you can hear a little Springsteen and Dylan here and there. At this point, though, no one is spending much time talking about how the guys might wear their heroes on their sleeves. They take the music they grew up on and combine into something fresh. Something that begs for future generations to wear herald Gaslight like the band speaks of the mighty Bruce. They are able to change easily from the fiery “Howl” to the longing in “Desire”. “I would give anything for the touch of your skin/Yes I would burn here for years, up in desire, desire” For me, it keeps me on my toes. I like not knowing what the next song will sound like. But no matter what it sounds like, it always sounds like The Gaslight Anthem. The band has found a way to change every time out, but never leave the listener wondering who they’re listening to.
“I was born beside a river/ That flows to a raging sea/ That one day will serve to quell/ Will one day be the death of me/ In my faded jeans and faraway eyes/ And salty carnival kiss/ That all my former lovers say/ Was once magnificent.” A line from the beautiful “Mae” you can almost feel the pain in his voice. That has always been one of Fallon’s greatest gifts. Like those greats before him, his voice is full of scars. It sounds likes a million miles of empty roads. It sounds like every love note never sent and every aching word never said. “And still the city pumps its aching heart/ For one more drop of blood/ We work our fingers down to dust/ And we wait for kingdom come/ With the radio on”
Goddamn. Just, goddamn.
Following up “Mae” and closing out the album is another heart-breaker: “National Anthem”. Filled with acoustic guitars and strings, it could easily become one of my favorite songs ever. “I never will forget you my American love/ And I’ll always remember you, wild as they come/ And though if I saw you I’d pretend not to know/ The place where you were in my heart is now closed/ I already live with too many ghosts” If those opening lines don’t touch you somewhere deep inside…I don’t even know what to tell you. This song is absolutely gorgeous. “I remember she used to look so good in that dress/ Now she just screams how I promised her more than this/ Take it easy baby, it ain’t over yet”
I realize I have left one important song out of this review thus far, the title track “Handwritten.” This comes early on the album, following “45″ but it is probably the song that sums up the rest. Somewhere between the fast blistering “Howl” and the emotional “National Anthem”. “I know there’s someone out there feeling just like I feel/ I know they’re waiting up/ I know they’re waiting to hear/ And I’ve been holding my breath, like you’ve been holding your breath/ For too many years to come/ And we waited for, sirens that never come/ And we write by the moon/ Every word handwritten”
This whole album sounds like it was handwritten for all of us. The fans, and those who haven’t yet stumbled on to this incredible band. The songs are built with care and confidence, and it leaves me wanting more. The only complaint I have about this album is that it isn’t longer. I wanted more when it was over. I guess that is the beauty of it though, they cut all away all the fat. What is left are 11 perfectly crafted songs. The band has never sounded better and it is hard to imagine that they ever will. Knowing The Gaslight Anthem though, I am sure that I will be saying something along those same lines when the next album comes out. They continue to impress me and I cannot believe I wasted 5 years or so not listening to them.
There are those who came before that you list as some of the greats. Those bands or singers who have left their mark on everyone coming after them. Those guys that are instantly known even when you mention just their first name. With this album, The Gaslight Anthem with Brian Fallon at the helm are poised to be listed with the rest. Those greats that will go down in history, leaving a little mark on every one who comes after. It makes me proud to be from NJ. With all the Snookies of the world, and the other bullshit NJ can sometimes be down for, this state has produced some of the greatest song writers ever.
“Here in the dark I cherish the moonlight/ I’m in love with the way you’re in love with the night/ And it travels from heart, to limb, to pen.” This album is basically perfect. And I, for one, hope that whatever it is that drives Fallon to write, it keeps traveling, from heart, to limb, to pen.
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