The Gaslight Anthem
A short list of things the Gaslight Anthem’s major label debut, “Handwritten,” might remind you of: Bruce Springsteen circa 1978, 1981 and 1985; the Replacements; Otis Redding; that famous Levi’s commercial set to a Walt Whitman poem; Dropkick Murphys and the Clash.
The New Jersey-bred band made a name for itself with a series of indie releases that positioned it as an upwardly mobile Springsteen tribute act — a really great, incredibly derivative bar band with arena-sized aspirations. In “Handwritten,” the follow-up to its 2010 breakthrough-that-wasn’t “American Slang,” Gaslight Anthem finally have an album to match their ambitions.
“Handwritten” is rollicking and self-conscious, as eager and likable as a puppy, and BIG, all loud, bristly choruses and hearts-on-sleeves romanticism. A potent and unashamedly familiar synthesis of rock, punk and soul made by four men in love with their enviable record collections, “Handwritten” makes it clear that, by now, the Gaslight Anthem isn’t simply trying on a series of vintage rock poses on the way to figuring out its own sound: That is its own sound.
Lead singer Brian Fallon may be the only rock frontman who can sing about souls and moonlight and salvation without sounding ridiculous (and we’re counting Chris Martin). People are constantly bleeding from their hearts, taking things to their grave, talking to angels, putting on their party dresses, and generally doing things that make “Handwritten” at its most gut-ripping, which is much of the time, resemble the Tumblr of a teenage writer of Taylor Swift fan fiction. The only misstep: the florid grunge manque of “Too Much Blood,” which the band rumbles through like a turnpike Nickelback. “Are you scared this sounds familiar?” wonders Fallon, who surely must know the answer by now.
— Allison Stewart
“45,” “Biloxi Parish,” “Handwritten”