Review Summary: Simply put, Handwritten is The Gaslight Anthem's masterpiece.
The Gaslight Anthem gained popularity for their mix of catchy accessibility and heart-on-its-sleeve relatable rock and roll. Handwritten
doesn't deviate from that formula at all, but perfects it, resulting in the band's strongest release yet. The album doesn't waste its time trying to expand the band's sound to include superfluous effects and instruments; reflective of its title, this album could have been recorded 40 years ago. However, when listening to it Handwritten
comes off as anything but stale.
A little bit heavier and more Springsteen-esque classic rock sounding than ever, Handwritten
sounds more than anything like an album full of emotion. Singer Brian Falloon's howl sounds more filled with pain than ever, and cries of "too much blood on the page" reflect the heart-wrenchingly honest feeling of the album. While generally as uptempo as the bands' previous releases, Handwritten
is much more effective at conveying emotional pain than anything the band has ever released, due in part to its drift away from the nostalgia of their breakthrough The '59 Sound
and American Slang
. The eponymous track lays this out clearly: "I don't remember the good times". While The Gaslight Anthem still revel in storytelling, the stories and memories themselves are starting to grow more directly painful rather than retrospectively sad (like "High Lonesome" off The '59 Sound
The sound of the album is fuller and louder than their previous work. The pain in Handwritten
isn't transmitted through slow-paced acoustic ballads (with the exception of the beautiful closer "National Anthem", an astounding folk song which may be the best song the band has ever written); instead this is a spectacularly written full band album complemented by pounding drums, big guitar (which gets its showcase in "Biloxi Parish", an anthemic classic rocker), and soaringly diverse vocals - undoubtedly Falloon's finest performance. The lyrics are tighter than ever and the pacing of the album is superb. Instrumentally and musically, this is the best the band have ever sounded.
The Gaslight Anthem have always thrived on authenticity and sincerity, and Handwritten
is the pinnacle of their work. While The '59 Sound
may have broken them into the conscience of music-listeners, this is the album that should cement them as one of the best rock bands of their era. Handwritten
is the Americana masterpiece the the Gaslight Anthem has always been capable of, and it is stunning.