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Album Pick of the Month: Gaslight Anthem’s ‘Handwritten’

Album Pick of the Month: Gaslight Anthem’s ‘Handwritten’

By Becky Gebhardt  

With the release of their fourth album Handwritten due out on July 23, The Gaslight Anthem will be testing the waters of major-label-dom for the first time. The 11-track effort, produced by Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Bruce Springsteen) will be released on Mercury Records.

 
 Pre-order the album here.

Musically and career-wise the band seems ripe for stepping out into a larger arena, and their commitment can be heard on every track. Handwritten was recorded with the whole band in one small room at Blackbird Studio in Nashville. Their intention was to stay connected to each other and to tap into the most primal essence of rock n’ roll, and that’s exactly what they did on this follow-up to 2010’s American Slang.

Lyrically, singer Brian Fallon has taken a distinct new approach — not by looking out into the world around him, but by turning inward. Although Fallon’s lyrics have always been honest and heart-on-sleeve, the songs on Handwritten are more personal than previous albums.

The band’s lead single, “45,” is an in-your-face, sing-along jam from the drop of the needle, but more significantly, it sets the stage for what the whole album seems to be about lyrically: opening up and confronting ghosts from the past. Fallon acknowledges his vulnerability and desire to make a change immediately with the first lines – “Have you seen my hands, have you seen them shake? I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same.”

Fallon yearns for the familiar and familial, while also recognizing the need to let go and move on. In “Keepsake,” he sings, “I’m not looking for your love, I’m only sniffin’ out blood. Just a little taste of where I came from.” There seem to be chains from the past but by going there, he may be “free at last from this shadow that hangs.”

Taking a heavy turn on “Too Much Blood,” Fallon admits shortcomings but also wonders what would happen “if I put too much blood on the page? If I just tell the truth are there only lies left for you?” What are the consequences of emotional purging? Maybe the answer will be revealed on the next album. Fallon’s voice gesticulates with anguish on the verses while the rest of the band cranks out a swampy grunge-influenced groove. But the chorus offers a repose in dynamic, highlighted by guitarist Alex Rosamilia’s reverb-ridden descending guitar line.

Rosamilia plays an important role in stretching the band into unexpected musical territory. For the most part, Handwritten is straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock. Rosamilia knows how to rip a guitar solo to pieces, and he can whip out satisfying riffs left and right. But when he dips into moody, indie-rock style parts, he adds dimension and personality to songs.

The Gaslight Anthem has cited a variety of musical influences in the past, and they seem to have found comfortable ground in defining their own identity while trying on the many great artists that they’ve been moved by. Their New Jersey roots offer support but do not confine, and that is a great thing for a band that seems to aspire for growth. The Gaslight Anthem is a band that is not giving up on their music, and their newest album is like a hand-written note delivered directly to every listener.

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