Review Summary: Now with 30% more woah-ohs
It's been a long time since I've had this kind of anticipation for a new album. But then, I'm sure I'm not alone in that. The Gaslight Anthem's knack for striking just the right combination of nostalgic lyrics and well crafted rock and roll to transport the listener to a wrold of moonlight summer nights, starry eyed girls, and jazz crackling through old radios has earned them quite a following over the last few years. A great single and only partially subdued questions about whether the band could top their brilliant 2008 effort "The '59 Sound" has pushed the hype meter through the roof. But after listening to the record a few times, it seems the fans were the only ones interested in "'59 Sound" comparisons. All TGA was concerned with was creating some truly towering music -- Rock and Roll on a grand scale, and in that they have certainly succeeded.
comes out swinging with the first single, "45" a faced paced, straight up rocker with some great lead parts, followed by the wonderful title track containing some of Fallon's best lyrical work to date. A couple songs in and it pretty quickly becomes clear TGA are trying to fill stadiums with this one; to say that dynamics are prevelent would not do the truth of it justice. Most of the songs have a quiet bridge or clean last verse of some sort followed by a crushing chorus, to the point that it's almost tempting to call it a gimmick. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case: you're probably not listening to the gaslight anthem for their subtlety anyway, and by the time the standout track "keepsake" rolls around with its bluesy lead riff and irresistable chorus, you'll find yourself toe tapping and nostalgic for things you may have never even experienced. And that's really what this band is all about.
The band's sound has improved greatly as a result of the production, which is remarkably crisp even for such a high profile release. Its impact is most strongly felt on the vocals where it gives Fallon the range and tone in his yells to really make the anthemic choruses work where they might not have had the same punch otherwise. Even better, the instruments keep up with the soaring vocals note for note, creating a incredibly tight sound. The bass is smooth, the lead is sharp, and the drumming is on point on every track. This is really an example of a band on top of its game, making the kind of music they've always wanted to make.
One area where Handwritten does fall short in is consistancy. The good songs are great, but there are also a couple not so great tracks. Some, like "Here Comes My Man," I would even consider average, which is an adjective I'm not accustomed to using around this band. The closer "National Anthem" could have also been much better. As it stands, it's a nice acoustic piece with some standard finger picking and even more standard strings in the background, but that's really about it, which is a shame considering what it could have been given Fallon's success with acoustic songs in the past. It would have almost been better to end the album with "Mae," a slow, powerful song with all the wistful lyrics about teenage romance you would expect from a Gaslight Anthem ballad.
However, these complaints are only what keep "Handwritten" from being perfect; they do not keep it from being great -- it is that, and more.