Review Summary: At this rate, it doesn't look like there's a single bad album in The Gaslight Anthem's future.
“With such talent at their disposal, there isn’t a chance that The Gaslight Anthem will sink, just how long they can swim remains to be seen.”
--The concluding sentence of Richard Craig’s Sink or Swim review; June 3rd, 2008.
From a certain retrospective, it feels like an eternity ago that The Gaslight Anthem
emerged from what seemed like thin air with the sudden appearance of Sink or Swim
on the shelf of your local record store. Through only three thoroughly amazing albums, it feels as if the band have changed so much without letting go of their roots, but rather building upon them with new influences, new styles and new improvements that has taken The Gaslight Anthem across the country (and the world) time and time again, allowing them to play the stage alongside Social Distortion
, The Strokes
, and even their personal idol, none other than The Boss himself. Surely, the band has come a long way since the rough vocals and coarse instrumentation of 2007’s independent favourite Sink or Swim
(and in such short time, I’d like to add), earning strong critical and commercial success through all three of their albums without the help of major record labels, but rather a continuous touring schedule, consistent record release frequency, and, well, pure talent.
Naturally, following Sink or Swim
and The ‘59 Sound
, I honestly had a bad feeling about what The Gaslight Anthem had in store for us next. Through two brilliant records, they had surely consolidated the impression of talent in the minds of their audience, but a third record slump seemed imminent after two consecutive records as good as Sink
. A sensation of relief washed over me as I played the title track “American Slang” for the first time, falling instantly in love with every second from start to finish of The Gaslight Anthem’s third effort, American Slang
During the tour in support of The ‘59 Sound
, vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon, now writing for The Gaslight Anthem’s next studio record, decided to depart from the ‘50s influenced sound of ‘59
. Evidently, Fallon’s decision has kept the band’s music fresh with a new “all-American” sound that is slightly lacking in traditional fast punk rock tempos and thick chord-based punk passages, but instead distributes more of its emphasis into impact and atmosphere (the slow, stirring closer “We Did It When We Were Young” and it’s close relation “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” being easily the strongest examples on the album, and, perhaps, the entire Gaslight discography), while the band includes speed and punk rock solidarity in such tracks as “Stay Lucky” (for the former) and “Bring It On” (for the latter); obviously, a wise and well-played strategy that relates well with Fallon’s new approach.
Frankly, the mellow, mid-tempo sound of American Slang
really does wonders for the album. In this setting, Rosamalia is able to take his guitar work to a new level of melodic predominance alongside Fallon’s rough, heavily Springsteen-influenced vocals (as opposed to the chord-based composition of the band’s past works). American Slang
is riddled with increasingly skilled solo riffs and melodies lain below Fallon’s singing, most of which see his subtle transformation as a guitarist within his newly heartland rock and Americana-influenced passages that reveal Rosamalia’s full potential. In addition, a new amount of texture in Fallon’s vocals is added, the source of which is that “all-American” sound, spawning a newfound blues notational style in his singing demonstrated on the song “The Diamond Church Street Choir”, while his heartfelt folk-punk vocal style is brought to new heights with the crisp quality of the album’s mixing, though some may find that ‘59
’s smoother, more polished production may have been more favourable. Praised in particular by critics have been Fallon’s lyrics, described as sheer masterful storytelling incorporating the fairly suburban themes of love (“The Spirit of Jazz”), divorce/break-ups (“Bring It On”) and the American social climate (“American Slang”) in his amazing heartland rock/folk lyrical style.
Structuring is surprisingly a noteworthy feature of the album. The energy of the album is distributed evenly through classic uptempo wonders like “Boxer” or its immediate successor “Orphans” (surely a winner for big fans of Sink
), the electrifying alt-punk favourites “Old Haunts” and “Bring It On” and the more alternative-influenced tracks “The Diamond Church Street Choir” and “The Queen of Lower Chelsea”, all of which are ordered in a way that renders repetition unrecognisable and keeps a sense of variety present throughout the entire album. However, easily the most impressive are the placement of the opener “American Slang” and the closer “We Did It When We Were Young”, the former gripping listeners with its balance of the overall sounds of ‘59
and it’s brilliant guitar hook, while the latter (an alternative rock track consisting of Fallon and Rosamalia’s haunting, whispering vocals and a powerful closing of atmospheric drum crashes and guitar strums) is devoid of virtually any punk rock traces, gracefully concluding the album on a very light, bittersweet note.
Though cited by the general public as The Gaslight Anthem’s most unfavourable studio album, American Slang
is still, at the very least, a solid album that delivers a strong follow-up to the band’s ’08 magnum opus, The ‘59 Sound
, however weaker it may be in comparison. Packed to the brim with uplifting choruses, epic vocals and awe-inspiring guitar riffing contained within another package of stunningly well written Gaslight Anthem songs, the band has come a long way from their humble underground Jersey beginnings, and I’m sure they won’t be sinking anytime soon.