With their 2007 release, Sink or Swim, Gaslight Anthem emerged from the Jersey Shore that did little to defy the conventions of its traditional sound, and for good reason -– classic blue-collar rock mixed with punk sensibility works well, and has grabbed them a lot of attention over the years.
With years, the band has improved without losing touch with who they are, and 2010’s American Slang still presents us with punk rock’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, and I’m incredibly happy for it.
While American Slang definitely represents the next step for the band and shows a progression from what they were doing on their stellar 2008 album, The ’59 Sound, it’s not huge step, and it gives you more of the smart songwriting and simple, yet impressive musical work. Gaslight Anthem is a no-nonsense band, and they definitely present that viewpoint devoid of nonsense.
What’s missing on American Slang, though, are any really big hooks. While the songwriting is brilliant as ever and frontman Brian Fallon delivers sweet observances with his trademark gravelly voice, the album is somewhat devoid of a truly catchy tune in the way that The ‘59 Sound had songs like its title track and “Great Expectations.” The most likely exceptions to that are the punchy “Orphans,” the heavily Springsteen-esque “The Diamond Church Street Choir” and the upbeat reflection on a tough guy that is “Boxer.” But even those tracks don’t immediately qualify as “catchy” upon first listen.
But the missing hooks aren’t needed, because American Slang isn’t about hooks. It’s about being a nostalgic-feeling album that will leave the most jaded of us remembering the good old days with a heady dose of melancholy. Fallon hits your nostalgia button repeatedly, when he throws lines at you that have you thinking that the good old days were better than now -– even when they weren’t that good.
It’s really evident on “Stay Lucky,” where he looks back on a brighter youth with the observation that “them old records won't be saving your soul,” and wryly reflects that we need to stop waiting for a break, “But you're never gonna find it/Like when you were young/And everybody used to call you lucky,” and again on “We Did It When We Were Young,” with its simple chorus of “But I am older now, And we did it when we were young.”
But then, it seems just when you have the album all figured out for being a struggling grasp at youth one last time, you catch Fallon’s gruff admonition in “Old Haunts,” where he sagely grumbles “Don’t sing me the songs about the good times, those days are gone and you should just let them go."
So American Slang is about looking back and it’s about moving forward. It’s a moment in time captured by great band from the Jersey Shore. And it’s a sleeper; if at first the songs don’t slap you about the face with implicit obviousness, you owe it to the band and to yourself to give it another listen. Its subtlety is in the fact that each song is as powerful as the one before or after. It’s not always a happy reality, but it’s definitely reality. And that makes me happy.
Release Date: June 15, 2010