The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

It sounds like Brian Fallon had a divorce where he felt like he was the only wronged party. This stuff’s so ex-boyfriend that it needs a song about that guy she met through OKCupid that he was always kinda suspicious of. Not to be, but the a song about he’s TOO revealing emotionally (“Too Much Blood”), a song about feeling unappreciated by your old girl (“Here Comes My Man”), and a song where the chorus ends with “Let her go / Let somebody else lay at her feet” (“’45′”, the best song on the album by a yee-haw hee-haw ha-ha ho-ho hee-hee HAHAHAHAHAAHAAAA yodel-a-hee-hoo-honk-honk-honk honkin’ country mile). Oh, and the title track is about how he’s just so old-fashoned and DIY in his emotions and emoting. Best of all, “Biloxi Parish” talks about how his ex made a mistake in leaving him because he’d be with her through the dark times, then passive-aggressively asks “And who else can say that about you?” Lest you think it’s a rhetorical question, he answers it with “Nobody I’ve seen you hanging around” a few lines later. Clingy prick.

Okay, the content’s annoying. How are the songs? Well, they’re worse than last time. “’45′” stands far above everything else here; a pretty great single/introduction, cranking up the catchy guitar lines. Things get far dicier afterwards, as they fall into rewriting ”45′” without the chorus or playing clunky, late-period Pearl Jam licks and lumbering around like old men. Of course, they don’t have the gravitas or the respect to pull off old-period Pearl Jam. And Fallon doesn’t have half the sillyvoice that Vedder does, so his efforts to oversing (and my does he oversing) reach laughable proportions during half the songs here. You kind of just want to tell him that it’s going to be okay, that he doesn’t have to wear leather to convince us that he’s ridden a motorcycle. Not that there’s a song about riding a motorcycle going on here.

Things are more produced, which is fine apropos little, but combined with the baditude and the newfound lumbering you kinda want to tell them to go back to Chris Cornell school, and to listen to a few old Jawbreaker albums to get their heads on straight. Or at least their own old albums.

I do sort of dig “Desire” and “National Anthem,” but it’s nothing you can’t find, and betterer, on every other GA album. Or Titus Andronicus album. Now that’s a band.

4 / 10

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The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Still another album that would be funnier if its title started with “African,” and I’ll be jiggered! The Anthem have really put it together on this one!

The big Anthem problem has always been that they can’t write any great songs. Sure, everything sounds nice while it’s on, but could you really distinguish between any two of last nine songs on “The ’59 Sound,” which was a pretty good album? But here, the dudes put together five straight memorable sounds to open the album, and it is good. They’re getting downright Springsteeny with the weaving of stories (nothing here comes across as autobiographical, which is tough for me to gag on and swallow) across different towns, but good good golly gosh, the melodies, and dat idolization of youth!

The title track is a decent mission statement for the whole album, then “Stay Lucky” kicks in a bit of emo noodling on top of another solid melody, then the other three that I also like.

Look, you have to know what you like. I quoted a line last time around, let’s try another: “When you’re working full time / And spending all of your nights / Never dancing like you did / And gravity hangs on all the selling points you had / Should’ve stayed and been the queen / Of Lower Chelsea” – what do you think, sister? Did it conjure a 28 year-old hipster looking in the mirror at her fourth year in her consulting job? Or was it more like a pretentious glorification of a stupid lifestyle? Because if you said the second, this probably isn’t for you. I mean, it’s a rock album, so it’s bound to put beards over babies, but almost all of the songs here are unambiguously about younger days, old haunts, and old flames. It’s never been any different with these guys, but I notice it here more…maybe because I can actually remember the songs this time. Everything has that same post-emo rock’n’roll feel, but the melodies actually stick out this time. At least they do until after the first five songs, when they settle into rewriting “Stay Lucky” a few times, but then the last couple songs really pick it up, especially “We Did It When We Were Young” – geez, you’d think lead singer Brian Fallon would just buy a time machine already!

The bonus track is a bit nice too; it’s an acoustic version of the title track that sticks in my head even more than the original, except for the part where Fallon oversings the shit out of it to such an extent that it becomes laughable. But otherwise, solid showing, Christian guy and your presumably non-Christian friends!

8 / 10

The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound

Way slowed down, but still a solid modern take on the three minute rock song. Much less emo and more predictable than the previous album (and therefore a more heterogenous bunch of songs), but the saving grace of this is that the guys have figured out how to write a fucker of a song. Run-on sentence is done, and they save us time by putting all three of said fuckers right at the start of the album!

These guys had their schtick down early – story songs for 20-somethings to listen to and get nostalgic about that time in high school they got laid at their best friend’s cottage – so combine that with able but unremarkable rock stylings and gruff, echoey vocals and it’s really a matter of how well they can put it together.

And like I said – dem first three snogs! “Great Expectations” is full of its super catchy melody, memorable lyrics (even if that line about “everybody leaves so why wouldn’t you?” is pretty cringe). “The ’59 Sound” is even better, with the same bit about the memorable memory and lyrics, but with the awkward line replaced by a clever sentiment that’s as much about not forgetting the (sorta distant) past as it is about looking forward and more about scolding youth than praising it like most of the rest of the album. And that jumped-into chorus! Then “Old White Lincoln” has a descendy guitar riff and slinky bass line that makes this practically a Smiths song. Huzzah!

Then the album forgets about being memorable and gets pretty mediocre. Here’s a few things these guys do wrong:

1. Use “no more” instead of “any more” and other such ungrammatical quick fixes.

2. Use names in their story songs – pretending you’re talking about “Sally” or “Maria” or “Bobby Jean” or “Gail” makes me feel disconnected from the songs! And why use so many old woman names?

3. Misunderstand why cliches are termed as such, and repeat them in the exact same self-important tone that they repeat their actual insightful, sad lyrics.

4. Write 2000s Pearl Jam-esque blooze songs. The last album had emo acoustic songs! Why make these bads?

Here’s the big test if this album is for you: what do you think of the line “My how the years and our youth pass on”? I think it’s a pretty solid (and true) reflection on the reality of the mortality of our internal beauty as our external beauty fades. Brian Fallon is a smart guy (don’t miss the line about dancing on architecture!), and he knows what’s valuable to most 20-somethings (hint: not religion), and he plays us like god damned fiddles if he can find a decent melody to sing along to. But hey, maybe there’s no romance for you in the idea of escaping a small town, or California, or your grandmother, at least nothing worth loudly singing about, and that’s okay, but I’m easy to impress.

Also, the last song (“The Backseat”) is a ballsack.

7 / 10

  Gas

The Gaslight Anthem – Senor and the Queen

Gadzooks and God’s wounds, a four-song EP! And why doesn’t Senor deserve a “the” like The Queen does? Way to bother me forever, EP.

So, Brian Fallon is a) from Dublin, and b) Christian. This is important to note because it explains why there’s so much lovin’ and so little sexin’. But he really, truly seems like the good kind of Christian, the kind that rants online in support of gay rights and cherry picks the nice things Jesus said and avoids the stuff about coming with a sword and the contradictions. So whatever. There are better reasons to dislike this EP, like how there’s only four songs and only one of them of them of them of them is are that good. The title track is totally forgettable, then “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis” includes a weird, scratchy voice and self-pitying lyrics, then the closer is only memorable for its title. The whole thing sounds weirdly poorly produced, and the step back in fidelity does not support their style at all. These are story songs, and without the clear lyrics the music can only annoy with its lack of universality and clunky drum noise.

But let’s talk about something upsetting: I’ve received something like 300 blowjobs thus far in my life. I’m estimating. I was hoping I could round it to 500, but not even close, and yet. And yet. Sex is great, but sex is a completely mutual thing. There’s a reason the language surrounding oral sex includes notions of giving and receiving, so reflect on the sum total of oral sex you have received, as if favours, in your fucking life. I mean, fuck. Gallons of saliva. Hours of effort. Literally hundreds of joyous gifts, a lifetime of pressure and pride, hours of trying to impress me, please me, make me feel good. Hundreds of “sexual favours” and every one of them the most important thing in the world at the time and yet now maybe ten of them that I can recall. Of the six women in my life that have put my penis in their mouth, this is the sum total of my every statistic. This much time and spit and like and attraction (somehow) to and for me. This much that was unreciprocated. This much that I owe. And I’m supposed to get up in the morning? I’m supposed to live with all this? How many more? Just keep drinking, I guess.

“Say I Won’t (Recognize)” is a great song, though. Somehow they turn “We’re having a party / Everybody’s swinging / Tonight won’t you come down / Don’t let me dance all night alone” into a bloody anthem, and have the smarts to say it a few times. It’s their first real anthem! And they buried it on a random EP. Well, there you go! And you, last song, I don’t think blue jeans and white T-shirts are a romantic thing anymore, unless you’re dating Sylvestor Stallone in Rocky. Sounds to me like a Christian’s idea of what menz these days are like.

5 / 10

The Gaslight Anthem – Sink Or Swim

Emo noir! For about five seconds you’ll think you’re in for some blues-rockin’, but then the drums kick in and a pop-punkin’ good time full of thinking about old loves and romanticizing the ocean and the feels of twenty-somethings, with neat-o titles to make it seem like they have a sense of humour about themselves.

This is all pretty standard stuff, and there’s nothing revelatory to be found in these 37 minutes, but a few things combine to make it a fun trip: first, there’s Mr. Anthem’ Brian Fallon’s grizzly voice that sounds like it comes from the beard Bruce Springsteen never grew. He can emote without whining and scream without sounding angstified, and all the talk of old friends is much better for the gravitas of an gruff old guy singing it. Then there’s the lyrical focus: there’s some maturity and nostalgia going on here and very little open misery. Again, this is good! It means you don’t want to throw the songs out of your apartment window, even when the lyrics get a bit maudlin. The chord changes and emo arpeggios are unremarkable enough, but the songs never linger too long on an uninspiring phrase. There aren’t any killer riffs, but this is just a solid debut, and a crooked little river of “quite good” is more than enough considering there’s nothing execrable (except maybe the stupid intro to “Red in the Morning”). There’s even a couple nice acoustic folksy numbers to mix things up, and they’re also pretty swell.

Really, this is an early Tom Waits world viewed through the ol’ modern tight pants prism, and what’s wrong with that? It’s all leather jackets and nights out on the town and long drives at night with a flawed but cute boy. Sure, in the time the guys would seemingly like to live in they’d all have factory jobs and unplanned kids by now, but shit, this is the 21st century and I think it’s great that 25 year-olds still have the chance to spend a spare Thursday afternoon getting drunk and watching American Horror Story. Plus, there’s a tribute to Joe Strummer! Who would just throw that in there? Whom, I ask you? It takes some parsing to know what the title “I’da Called You Woody, Joe” means, but when you get it: boners!

In summary: these guys have a solid grasp on their feely things and their musical things, and that’s pretty remarkable for a bunch of tuffs. I’m not sure if Brian Fallon would make a good boyfriend, but it’s easy to see what a lost soul would see in him. We should be so lucky to live a teenage romance with the eyes of grown-ups. I was discussing the phrase “youth is wasted on the young” with my girlfriend the other night, and I had this defense: we’re fortunate now to be young enough to still be youngish and realize how good we have it before it’s over, and it will be, soon. Relationships are important, but they’re inherently nostalgic because every one we have is likely to end in loss, longing, and a hollow feeling in our gut. And that’s okay – we’re reproduction machines, not happiness machines. So let’s have bonfires and shit. And write story songs about it, I guess. Whatever, I get on some pretentious tears sometimes and I apologize for that.

Oh, also, the voice of the narrator in these songs doesn’t like to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. This continues throughout the career, so if that’s a dealbreaker for you then get out now. That and some cliches are unfortunate, but can you really deny the funstalgia of “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” and

1930″? No, no you can not. And the folk songs are well done as well.

7 / 10