Posted by Mike Moynahan on 09/13 at 03:27 PM
The Gaslight Anthem, the New Jersey quartet who has been going strong for just about six years now, released their latest effort, Handwritten, this past July 24th on Mercury Records, a subsidiary of The Island Def Jam Music Group in the U.S. Handwritten is the band’s fourth release and is without a doubt their best produced and most polished work yet. The album, like their previous releases, is a testament to their beloved state of New Jersey. Their discography could be used as the soundtrack to driving down the Garden State Parkway.
The album kicks off with its first single, “45,” a song similar to many others on the album about love lost. The music seems to serve as the only antidote able to heal the pain a lover leaves in one’s heart. “Have you seen my hands,” begins lead singer Brian Fallon. “Just look at ‘em shake. And the song just keeps on repeating, drop the needle again. And I dance with your ghost. Oh, but that ain’t the way. I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same.” The song is upbeat and catchy, a clever technique used by the group to almost work as a mask to their often downer lyrics. Fallon’s scratchy voice continues to the chorus, “and all my friends say, ‘Hey hey, turn the record over. Hey hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side.’ There you go, turn the key and engine over. Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.”
The album continues with its title track, “Handwritten.” This song represents how Fallon and the gang are an old-school group. Think of them as the 50’s garage band who also work in that garage. Think greasers with guitars. They don’t submit to the idea that punk is dead and they live by the blue collar, dirt-on-your-hands gospel according to Bruce. “We only write by the moon, every word handwritten,” the chorus begins. “And to ease the loss of youth and how many years I’ve missed you. Pages plead forgiveness, every word handwritten.” The coming of age tune gets the job done and continues Fallon’s tendency to ponder what could have been in a relationship.
The rest of the record is packed with very listenable songs that work well together in an album format. The listener never feels the need to skip over any particular tracks, but rather finds that each one lends itself well to the rest of the bunch. Standouts include “Here Comes My Man,” “Howl,” (the short but upbeat tribute to Allen Ginsberg), “Mulholland Drive,” and the touching love song “Mae,” which contains one of Fallon’s dreamier lines from the album: “This city pumps its aching heart for one more drop of blood. We work our fingers down to dust and we wait for kingdom come with the radio on.” Fallon makes it no secret how big a role music can play in someone’s life.
If Handwritten has a ballad, it would be the acoustic closing track, “National Anthem.” All the crucial Gaslight elements align to close the album on a soft but somber note. “I never will forget you my American love,” sings Fallon, although it feels more like a whisper. One might think the heartbreak motif would get old after a while but Fallon makes it work. We see humanity and mortality in questioning if the powers-that-be are actually controlling anything when he sings, “with everything discovered just waiting to be known, what’s left for God to teach from his thrown? And who will forgive us when he’s gone?” The blue collar ideology is shown through, “we drink on the job and we go home early.” We see hardworking people whose skills aren’t really needed at the time. Then we see a failed relationship, due to one reason or another, that perhaps both parties wish could still work out with the lyric, “I remember she used to look so good in that dress. Now she just screams how I promised her more than this.” And with two lines towards the end of the song, Fallon takes a page out of John Lennon, the original working class hero’s, book. “Whatever gets you through the night. Whatever gets you through the night.” It’s not happy, but still it seems hopeful. If so much has gone wrong then something is just waiting to go right.
Handwritten isn’t the greatest album of all time. It’s not even the greatest Gaslight Anthem album of all time. But it is very good and it keeps the American Dream alive. When you hear Brian Fallon really truly believe he deserves love and happiness, it’s hard not to feel that you deserve the same. The Gaslight Anthem are no Bruce Springsteen, nobody is. But they understand what he fought for. A small town New Jersey kid working on his car and finishing the last cigarette in his pack, dreams of getting out, of making something of himself and staying there. But the past remains, and there’s sincerity in it. Where you grow up affects you in both good and bad ways. It’s up to you to choose if you want to keep placing the needle down on the same sad track or if you’re ready to turn the record over.
Author: Mike Moynahan
Bio: Mike Moynahan is a senior majoring in English and minoring in Media Studies. In addition to writing, he co-hosts the Indie 500 show every Wednesday at 7PM on The LION 90.7fm. He enjoys watching T.V. (especially Breaking Bad), digging deep into the bowels of Netflix for instant viewing when he’s bored, reading and napping in his free time. No artists will ever be greater than the Beatles or Elliott Smith but he commends the rest of the pack for trying their best. Some of his current favorites include The Gaslight Anthem, The Weakerthans, Death Cab for Cutie, The Front Bottoms, Titus Andronicus, Arcade Fire, Built to Spill, Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine, The Hold Steady, Los Campesinos!, Bon Iver, and Coldplay. Especially Coldplay.
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