New Jersey quartet continues to impress with their self-styled ‘soul punk’.
Alistair Lawrence 2012
The times have certainly changed for The Gaslight Anthem. Four years and two silver-certified albums since their leap over the top in this country, they’ve established themselves with an evocative brand of wistful, blue-collar rock. Hearteningly for their old-school fans, they never seem to forget the rites of passage that brought them here.
Handwritten is the band’s fourth album and represents an attempt to avoid repeating themselves. The main upshot of this decisive step out of their comfort zone is the warm embrace of big, bold anthems. It’s a natural but impressive transition that takes to another level the intravenous hooks present since their comparatively raw Sink or Swim debut of 2007.
These room-filling rock songs are still guided by frontman Brian Fallon’s husky croon. It’s emboldened by the fact that Benny Horowitz is still one of the most underrated drummers around, while bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia continue to be fine foils for Fallon’s bewitching turns of phrase.
Frequently, things that turn existence ugly – change, doubt, love – are gutted and filled with life-affirming vitality. It must be enough to make some of their peers, whose material merely wallows in comparison, sink even further into the dumps.
“I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same,” Fallon cries on “45”, before neatly turning it into a jubilant rallying cry. It’s a lead-off single so bright it deserves to rule the radio this summer. On the title track, the observation that “there’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same” is made to sound like something to cherish.
Keepsake and Too Much Blood are two nods to the grunge era, the latter a bristling journey through the problems of confiding in both a loved one and a lyrics sheet. The almost choral climax of Biloxi Parish just might be the shimmering highlight of the whole shebang.
The criticisms are minor – a couple of tracks slide back into familiar Americana, but even then there’s no sense of the band coasting. Instead they’ve come of age by striving for brilliance. Enthralling stuff.