The Gaslight Anthem

Handwritten

Written by: PP on 30/07/2012 00:04:52

Few albums have received as much hype prior to their release as "Handwritten", the fourth album by the punk and Bruce Springsteen influenced Americana rockers The Gaslight Anthem. It's a record that's being hailed as the decade-defining album by some, album of the year by others, and everything in between by critics and fans alike from both the mainstream and underground music cultures. And rightly so: The Gaslight Anthem have in just five years developed and later perfected a sound that's the ideal middle ground between the two cultures: an accessible, easily likable melodic sound jam-packed with simple radio rock choruses, yet with enough grit, honesty and passion to make it appeal to music enthusiasts just as well. Few bands today are able to achieve such an amicable bridge between the two, and for that Gaslight Anthem must be commended. Or rather, their golden throat of a vocalist Brian Fallon, without whom none of this would be possible.

"Handwritten" is basically a Brian Fallon show from start to finish. It's his coming of age album, one where he takes all of his previous work and evolves from 'that guy with great vocals' to one of the great modern American rock singers. There's no question after "Handwritten" that he isn't a man we'll be thinking about in the future in the same way as we today view personalities like Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen, or Morrissey, especially if this is the standard we'll be hearing from him in the future. He retains some of the charismatic roughness of the first two albums, while expanding his higher range into arena-sized choruses in songs like "Here Comes My Man" or "Handwritten".

The rest of the band basically complete the transition into a contemporary American rock band on this album. The nuances of punk that existed during brief moments on "American Slang", and more obviously so on "The '59 Sound" and "Sink Or Swim" have been all but eradicated, and in the context of the overall soundscape presented on this album, it's for the better. This is an identity-defining album where Gaslight Anthem establish their core identity for years, probably decades to come. Where "American Slang" was their first real attempt at larger, stadium-sized songwriting, and as such came across a little nervous and occasionally a little bland, "Handwritten" is where they build on their experience and therefore feel more comfortable in their songwriting shoes. The result is some of the best songs this band has written to date: opener "45" is definitely among their best songs and melodies to date, and the same applies to "Howl", which borrows from the classic oooh-oooh formula and makes it sound brighter and more cheerful than we're used to hearing.

But all that being said, "Handwritten" is overhyped to almost ridiculous proportions. Because for all the great songs that Fallon & co feature on the album, there's an equivalent amount of songs that are either just 'decent', or like is the case for the middle section of the album, just bland in comparison. The contrast between the faster paced rockers and the slower ones is drastic, and when standing so directly next to each other, it's not difficult to hear that the Gaslight melodies simply work better with an uptempo pace than in a quieter and slower form. These can be good, too, as "Here Comes My Man" demonstrates, but is it really a match for "45"? Or "Desire"? Or "Howl"? In this scribe's opinion, not really. And then you can conveniently ignore the rather boring and nondescript songs like "Mulholland Drive", "Too Much Blood" and "Mae", which offer very little in terms of melodies, but compensate somewhat for lyricism fanatics. It's also symptomatic that the band's cover of Nirvana's "Sliver" - a great cover that has been Gaslight Anthemified very convincingly - sounds better than many tracks on the album. (Note: on the deluxe edition only... why was "Blue Dahlia" not on the album by the way?)

Overall, "Handwritten" will almost certainly boost Gaslight Anthem into heights previously unseen for the band. They now have the songs to play the much bigger stages they have clearly been yearning for. But it is not the best album released this year and probably not even the best rock/alternative album released this year as some have been suggesting. Sure, composition-wise and in terms of artistic ambition, it's impressive in every way. But when stripped down to just the basic facts, it is not consistent enough to warrant a rating of an amazing, genre-defining album in my humble opinion, but at least it improves from "American Slang" significantly and nearly returns the band to the glory of their first two albums.

8

Download: "45", Howl, Handwritten, Desire
For the fans of: Bruce Springsteen, The Horrible Crowes, The Menzingers, (new) Frank Turner
Listen: Facebook

Release date 24.07.2012
Mercury Records

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