Listening to “45”, the opening track and first single from The Gaslight Anthem’s new release Handwritten, I have to think that the band is tiring a little from the comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Yet, while I don’t necessarily hear any copycatting going on here, the raw Jersey blues-rock vibe and gravelly voice of Brian Fallon’s voice are unmistakably similar, inspiring much of the same imagery as The Boss just from the sound.
As I move into the title track “Handwritten,” and “Here Comes My Man,” I can imagine the critics pulling the songs apart, complaining about romantic sentiment bordering on triteness, and about how we’ve heard all these things before.
By the time I get into “Mulholland Drive,” I could give a flying rip what the critics are going to say. The music is taking me on a journey, and I toss the oars overboard and let the music take me where it will. I’m lost in the experience of a great rock album.
With Handwritten, it’s like The Gaslight Anthem has flipped a collective bird to the vultures waiting to pick at their carcasses, and thrown themselves completely into this set of songs. Yeah, the album is a bit more romantically themed and emotional than their previous work, but in a sense, isn’t rock & roll about putting your heart on your sleeve? Song after song, I totally believe what this band is saying to me. There’s nothing extremely innovative here in the lyrics, in the arrangements, or in the sound. It’s signature Gaslight Anthem, a solid blend of Americana rock with a twist of punk. There’s nothing groundbreaking, musically speaking.
Or is there?
One complaint I have about a lot of modern rock is that it is too cerebral—too much brain, not enough heart. I like new sounds and innovations, but sometimes we get so busy experimenting with the edges of our sounds that we forget why we’re even making the sounds in the first place.
With this record, The Gaslight Anthem maybe hasn’t broken new ground, but it has definitely broken through the barrier of over-thunk music and taken us back into the feeling, the passion, that created this music in the first place. Handwritten is an apropos title for the record because the whole thing carries a raw, organic feel to it, taking us back to an emotional place when we wrote love notes instead of “sexted”. Back to the days when playing rock-and-roll was all about passion.
And for that, my hat is off to The Gaslight Anthem. Let the other guys analyze the crap out of these tunes. I’ve lost the oars, and I’m letting the music carry me downstream. This could easily be one of my favorite albums of the year.
ALBUM RATING: Five Stars (out of five)