The Gaslight Anthem prove worthy of Springsteen comparisons with American Slang
It’s been a busy few months for those next generation bands most indebted to the cult of Springsteen. Titus Andronicus’ stirring second album earned rave reviews and many Boss comparisons, while the Hold Steady continued their run of Bruce-by-way-of-Minnesota albums just last month.
Now into the fray steps The Gaslight Anthem, perhaps the truest believers of all.
Two years ago, the stirring title cut from The ’59 Sound, the band’s second album, cut through all of the tentative indie-rock with a full-hearted ode to reckless youth. Anticipation for their latest release has been building thanks to the band’s excellent live work, and American Slang does not disappoint, as the group has managed to take the energy of their incendiary breakthrough song and sustain it over the course of an entire album.
From the opening stomp of the title track, there is very little let-up allowed on American Slang. The twin guitar attack of Brian Fallon and Alex Rosamilia crunches any opposition, demanding that this album be played loud. Bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz do a nice job keeping up with the raid tempos and smoothly underpin all of the thunder up front.
Fallon rides out in front of it all with full-throated ardor, singing from the heels each and every time. The approach would border on overbearing if he weren’t so consistently delivering such cleverly observed lyrics. And it’s been a while since I’ve heard a new band that has such a way with shout-along choruses. Just about every song here raises your adrenaline level even as they make you think.
Even though the songs wear their anthemic ambitions on their sleeves, Fallon’s lyrics balance it out by telling the hard truths. If there’s a running theme, it’s the way these characters rage against the disillusionment of growing up, a riff on the way Springsteen’s catalog constantly warns about the folly of relying too hard on childhood dreams.
And there’s nowhere to look for help. As Fallon sings on the title track, “We called for our fathers but our fathers had died.”
But Fallon doesn’t give in, demanding resiliency of his characters and himself. On “Bring It On” he dares his ex to show him what she left him for. “Boxer” tells the tale of somebody who’s taken too many heart punches, and yet the chorus shows more admiration for this has-been than disgust.
“Orphans,” “Old Haunts,” and “Stay Lucky” are filled with punk energy and fighting spirit, and they’re all excellent.
At times American Slang can seem like one long song. “Diamond Church Street Choir” earns its Van Morrison-inspired title with some soulful playing by the band, but it’s really the only hint of a change-of-pace until the closing track. That closer, “We Did It When We Were Young,” is a bit of a fizzle, suggesting that the band still might have trouble hitting the slow stuff.
Fallon has proven he can capture the musical spirit of Springsteen fist-pumpers like “No Surrender;” after all, he’s pretty much written an album’s worth of such rousing fare here.
Now we need to find out if he can do his own riff on “The River” or “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” songs that dare to acknowledge that sometimes resiliency isn’t enough. When he does, the Gaslight Anthem will transcend all of the references to their idol.
Until that day, you can still crank up American Slang and appreciate that only the most talented bands warrant such a lofty comparison.