When The Gaslight Anthem started to make some public noise a few years ago with “The ’59 Sound,” it was tought not to take notice.
Yes, there was something familiar in singer Brian Fallon’s plain-spoken observations about death (“Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over? Did you hear your favorite song one last time?”) and his poetic musings set against a driving guitar and thunder road drumming (“Young boys . . . young girls…ain’t supposed to die on a Saturday night”).
That the band is from New Jersey brings the obvious comparisons to Bruce Springsteen – an influence which The Gaslight Anthem wears unabashedly – and there are more than a few undercurrents of Bon Jovi running through the nimble rock ‘n’ roll guitar lines from Alex Rosamilia.
But while comparisons to the hometown brethren are fine, on the band’s fourth album, “Handwritten,” The Gaslight Anthem demonstrates exactly why they are ready to stand on their own.
The 11 songs on “Handwritten,” the band’s fourth album and first on a major label, are a sumptuous collection of unvarnished melodic rock. The foursome – Alex Levine on bass and Benny Horowitz on drums round out the group – is adept at building into a song so seamlessly that by the time they hit one of their giant choruses, you’re hooked.
The fingerprints of producer Brendan O’Brien – a Springsteen favorite – are all over “Handwritten,” from the frequent “Whoa-oh-ohs” that punctuate the title track and “Desire,” to the searing acoustic ballad “National Anthem” that closes the album, a string-laced deliberation that ponders faith and shares regrets.
Fallon often sings songs of dreamers and losers, lovers and the lovelorn, and imbues many of his lyrics with a wistful smile.
“Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left somewhere inside our souls?” he wonders on the quick and punchy “Howl.” Then, on “Mae,” which might lean a little too much toward Goo Goo Dolls territory for some, he sings of a girl with “Bette Davis eyes and your mama’s party dress,” instantly drawing us into this world where, “We work our fingers down to dust and wait for kingdom come with the radio on.”
At first listen, it’s easy to conclude that The Gaslight Anthem is at its best when churning out bar band rockers such as “Mulholland Drive.” But the more you hear them, the more you realize that those seemingly simple rock songs are merely the foundation on which greatness is inevitably built.
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