the Gaslight Anthem, American Slang. Out 6/15, SideOneDummy Records.
Let’s get this out of the way first, because it’s the only thing reviews will be able to talk about until it’s said: American Slang is not as good an album as The ’59 Sound.
And now, lest you think everything else I say is a backhanded compliment, that doesn’t mean American Slang isn’t a very, very good album, because it is. It’s just that The ’59 Sound is a singular, once-in-a-lifetime album. It’s a masterpiece, flawless from start to finish, and it’s actually unfair to compare anything else that Gaslight does to that album. That album is untouchable, so far above the rest of the standards that it can’t even count. So throw it out. (Don’t actually throw it out. And, hell, if you’re one of, like, fourteen people who still haven’t heard it, what the hell are you waiting for? Your next favorite song is on that album, I promise. Go get it and stop being stubborn. Unless you’re my Mom, because you probably wouldn’t like it, Mom. It’s not your style.)
So with that said, considered, and moved past: American Slang is a great album. It’s catchy and imminently built for singing along; Brian Fallon doesn’t, I don’t think, know how to write anything that’s less than, well, anthemic. Brian and the band write songs that are meant to be shouted from the rafters, in overfull clubs packed with sweaty, screaming fans, and this album doesn’t disappoint in regard. I can only imagine how the swing of “The Diamond Street Church Choir” — my favorite track on the album — or the shouted heartbreak chorus of “The Spirit of Jazz” will play live (pretty damn well, I’d think). This is an album that’s built perfectly for the sound of the band, the precedent that they’ve established for themselves — songs that are universal but specific, personal but still the story of every early 20something out there.
god help the man who says if you’d have known me when
I actually feel like it’s a much more grown-up album, sonically and lyrically. Brian Fallon still and will always write songs about the things that wounded him as a teenager, the bruises under his skin that made him who he is, but it seems less … I’m not sure, less bitter, maybe. Not more wistful, but more straight forward. This happened, and we’ll sing about it.
Sonically, American Slang is sloppier than The ’59 Sound, and less raucous than Sink or Swim, but it isn’t sloppy in a bad way. It’s just looser, more willing to expand their sound and try things that they haven’t done before. On first listen, I thought it felt rushed, but the more times I listen to it, the more I find tiny details in the music that delight me. Some of the guitar lines feel very much as Brian described Alex’s process back in January during his solo show at the Black Cat: he basically just noodles around without thinking about it, the band hears it and loves it, and they build a song around the sound. There’s a freshness, a sense of pushing boundaries sonically without realizing that you’re pushing boundaries, that I find fascinating in the album.
And seriously: the swing of “The Diamond Street Church Choir”, the punch and cheerful jangle of the chorus, is worth this album all by its lonesome. It may not be the best song on the album — I think that’s actually probably “Boxer” — but it’s my favorite, and that counts for something. It’s the one I turn up in the car and sing along to.
American Slang isn’t one of those perfect albums by any stretch; there’s songs that would fit as easily on an earlier album as this new release, a track or two that seem mysteriously too familiar and overdone (“Bring It On”, although the line and give me the children you don’t want to raise gives me chills every time), and Fallon even submits a few turns of phrase that clunk appallingly. (Brian Fallon! You are better than some of these lyrics! Seriously!) But overall, in a dingy club under red lights, with an audience full of wounded hopeful people, very few bands these days do it better than the Gaslight Anthem. If their third attempt isn’t perfect, they can be forgiven, because this album is still better than many other things being released upon the world these days.
who who who does it better than we do, indeed.