The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten
The Gaslight Anthem are a fairly young band out of New Jersey, whose fourth and latest album, Handwritten, displays why the band has amassed impressive popularity in a fairly short span. They feature a throwback classic rock vibe that surely plays well in a stadium. They have the right combo of punk, country and Springsteen-esque anthem rock to create an extremely accessible sound that goes down easily. While this generally leads to some easy listening and a solid summer record, the album settles into a comfortable place devoid of risks or any sense of command.
“45,” the lead single off the record, starts the album on a thrilling note. It’s a well-executed song that’s hard to classify ‒ calling it punk rock seems a bit off, but calling it simply indie rock is a bit of a stretch. No matter, it establishes a promising direction for the album. “Handwritten” has a similar sound, though it’s a bit angrier and sharper. Many of the songs on the album are elevated by frontman Brian Fallon’s more-than-capable command as a vocalist. His is a voice that can shuffle between country twang to punk angst seamlessly. On “Here Comes My Man” ‒ an otherwise run-of-the-mill song — Fallon makes the song interesting by showing off an impressive vocal and emotional range. “Too Much Blood” manages to be both catchy and meditative and shifts the album to a darker place. This is furthered on “Howl,” an unapologetically pop punk two minutes. For one of the first times on the album, The Gaslight Anthem seems to have a crystal clear vision for the song and it ends up being very effective. Another standout on the album is “Mae,” which takes a more country rock bend. The lyricism is skillful and they achieve a comfortably subdued mood. “National Anthem” is even more stripped down, giving off a classic rock sound that’s almost reminiscent of James Taylor.
The Gaslight Anthem can certainly do many things well. It’s just a bit frustrating that they hesitate to really develop a distinct tone. The album flies all over the place, dipping its toes in an array of different genres. The fact that they can set a song like “Sliver” next to a song like “National Anthem” ‒ songs that are essentially foils of one another ‒ and execute both fairly well is a testament to the band’s skill and Fallon’s range as a vocalist. But this inability to stay in one place comes off as disconnected rather than exciting. The versatility is admirable, the executive is painstakingly sound, but Handwritten’s lack of direction makes it hard to connect with.