The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

by Cara McGrath (Graphic Design), published July 12th 2012

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

When a band releases its fourth full-length album, expectations are raised and comparisons are inevitable. There are more fans to please and more hits to live up to, especially when that group has blown up like The Gaslight Anthem has in the past few years. So when Handwritten hit the number one spot on the iTunes rock chart last week, I hope that Brian Fallon and his band mates each breathed a deserving sigh of relief. Fortunately, I, too, breathed a sigh of relief as I listened to the album for the first time and thought, “Damn, this is good.”

The Gaslight Anthem’s growth in style and lyricism are noticeable in their 2012 release. On some tracks, especially in “Desire,” listeners can hear more full-sounding, almost echoic vocals, a minor change but definitely a noticeable one to a loyal fan. One more radical alteration is in the songwriting. Fallon no longer uses characters as he previously has, especially in the 2008 LP, The ’59 Sound. One thing that has not been removed from the lyrics is Fallon’s constant references to driving with the radio on, as heard in Handwritten’s “Mae,” and many of the band’s previous tracks, including Sink or Swim’s “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” and The ’59 Sound’s title track.

Another thing that remains the same about these New Jersey rockers is that they always lead each album with a remarkably strong opening track. If you don’t believe me, go listen to “Boomboxes and Dictionaries,” “Great Expectations,” and “American Slang.” Handwritten begins with “45,” the album’s first single and one of its superlative songs. “45” definitely earns its spot among the other great openers, perhaps evening topping those before it. The song speaks of turning a record over, like turning over a new leaf and finally letting go of a past love.

Gaslight unveils the album’s matchless song at track number five, “Keepsake,” with four minutes of powerful lyrics addressing the absence lingering in the lead singer’s fatherless life. Fallon wails, “I just want to love someone who has the same blood. Who has the same blood?” Songs like “Keepsake” reaffirm the honesty and authenticity in Fallon’s lyrics. Other gems do the same, including “Mullholland Drive,” which dwells on a past love, and “Too Much Blood,” in which Fallon toys with candid skepticism of exposing himself too much to another.

The CD’s deluxe edition includes two cover songs, Nirvana’s “Sliver” and Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky.” The renditions aren’t exactly earthshattering; without them, the album loses nothing. It is the band’s notes and Fallon’s lyrics that are more vital to Handwritten as a whole, the lyrics that he kept at his side in a black-and-white college composition notebook throughout the writing process. While The Gaslight Anthem’s style varies from album to album, from punky to folky, from raw to clean and shiny, Fallon’s outstanding songwriting is a constant. So whatever stylistic changes the band decides to make, Handwritten proves that fans will always be able to depend on Fallon’s meaningful lyrics.

Recommended tracks: 45, Keepsake, Howl, Desire

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