The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

by Dan Wilets (Journalism), published August 7th 2012

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

The theme that runs through The Gaslight Anthem’s fourth LP, Handwritten, comes on the second cut, the title track, “Every word handwritten/And with this pen, I thee wed/from my heart to your distress.”  Singer and lyricist Brian Fallon is no longer writing about Angry Johnny and Maria; instead he’s writing from a much more personal place, where he’s spilling his “blood on the page.”  This lyrical shift, along with a stylistic maturation produced a fresh new album for a Jersey punk band trying to grow up.

It seems as though Gaslight has traded some of the bite of their punk roots for a bigger, maybe even huge sound.  They brought in producer Brendan O’Brian (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam) and the result is expertly presented, lush instrumentation; there is mandolin and harmonica on “Keepsake,” Byrds-esque 12-string guitar on “Here Comes My Man,” and a string section on the acoustic “National Anthem.”

The other area where Handwritten excels sonically is in Fallon’s vocals.  His voice comes in crystal clear, which isn’t easy for a cigarette-drenched baritone like his, and the emotion that shines through is astounding.  There are lines on ”Mulholland Drive” and “Mae” where he sounds like he could burst into tears at any moment.

Fallon’s biggest achievement is writing from a more personal place while remaining instantly accessible and writing about relatable themes.  On the rousing opener “45,” he sings about moving on and how all his friends tell him to “turn the record over.”  They also never abandon the shouts of “woah-oh” and “hey” that make for great sing-alongs and huge live moments.

The only place where Handwritten stumbles is its pacing, but since the music is killer the whole way through, the damage is minimal.  All three stomping, bluesy numbers are grouped closely in the middle of the record with only “Howl” to break them up.

The record also closes with two ballads, which is an odd choice for a band which started out as “punk.”  The first of them, “Mae,” is stunning.  The track is stylistically influenced by Fallon and touring guitarist Ian Perkins’ side project, The Horrible Crowes, Fallon sings about “Wait[ing] for Kingdom Come/with the radio on” over layered tasteful leads from guitarist Alex Rosamilia and pounding toms from drummer Benny Horowitz.  It is easily the best slow song they have produced and has huge hit potential.

While some long time fans may feel disillusioned by the lack of blazing punk that was on their 2007 debut Sink or Swim (those fans need to listen to “Howl”), this album is a huge step forward for The Gaslight Anthem.  It does a fantastic job of mixing the old with the new.  No great band is stagnant and Gaslight has proved that they are anything but.

Recommended tracks: 45, Handwritten, Howl, Mae

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