Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten Review

Great American rock and roll bands are few and far between in 2012, but New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem is one of them. And guess what? They just put out a new album.

Called Handwritten, it's a set of authentic and straight ahead rock and ballads that delve into two clear themes, at least to me: 1) celebrating rebellion and the freedom it can bring and 2) a heavy dose of love lost...or love desired, in jeopardy or bordering on impossible to have.

In this day and age of pre-produced boy bands, hip-hop gangsters, techno sample driven dance and sugary sweet country, The Gaslight deliver a much needed dose of real, believable, moving rock and roll from the USA.

You can see a few pictures I took of The Gaslight Anthem HERE. They are at the end of a set of rock concert photos I took at gigs.

Meanwhile, here's my review of the songs...

45. "I can't move on and I can't stay the same." A rocking kick off to the album and the band's first single off this record. Essentially, this is a celebration of rock music and the exhilaration of that first powerful jolt you get when dropping the needle down on a rockin' 45. Mixed into this is also some reference to how one needs to make change...equating that with "seeing you on the flipside" of a record.

Handwritten. "There's nothing like another soul that's been cut up the same." Musically bearing some resemblance to the band's big hit "The '59 Sound," this song is a meditation on nostalgia and the desperate attempts to mend or endure a damaged but still firing love. The "handwritten" reference to me signifies that the relationship being sung about was forged in the most authentic and meaningful way and could still be - if both parties want it.  Classic Gaslight Anthem that will have you singing along and reminiscing and relating to the heartfelt theme.

Here Comes My Man. "Maybe your pride will be your companion." A song about a guy jilted by his girl. Has she left him for another guy? A job? To find herself? Well, it's not clear. Could be one of these things, some or all...but the point is made. Anyway you slice it, this person is in pain and desperately wants what could have been.

Mulholland Drive. "Oh and I would just die if you took your love away." Featuring a choppier delivery and a guitar solo in the middle, this one is a about what the singer would feel if his love went away. This is now the third song in a row on this album about the loss of love - or the fear of it. And by the end you realize that both parties in the relationship are saying the same thing...so not all is lost.

Keepsake. "I just want to love someone who has the same blood."OK, here things slow down with a chugger of a tune with a wailing guitar overlay and lyrics about a person seeking out family...his own blood...something that apparently has been lacking in his life.

Too Much Blood. "Now I'm no devil, but I've got things on my mind." The slower pace continues here with a charged, but paced tune about possibly saying too much...by putting "too much blood" on the page - in other words, going too far and it's consequences.

Howl. "Does anything still move you since you're educated now?" Boom. A rocker following a few slowdown tunes. This song revs up and challenges the contented listener if she still has the rebellious spirit of younger days - the desire to escape, the drive to move, to embrace the wild side of life for all the freedom it did - and could still - deliver.

Biloxi Parish. "I've found that nothing truly matters that you cannot find for free." Throttling back again, this is a mid-paced song that - best I can tell - centers on the singers desire to be with a difficult girl...one who he recognizes is not good for him, but that he loves none less. He's willing to suffer and he's willing to put up with the "blood and curses" the girl can, and no doubt will, dole out. The music on this one is pretty good with great guitar work crescendoing with a solo breaking out of the rhythm, falling away and building back up.

Desire. "What makes a man do the things that a man does." Pace picking up here - "ohh-whooo-ah-ooooh" kicking things off. This song title actually encapsulates many of the love songs on Handwritten as it talks about the desire - from afar, against wisdom, in light of difficult circumstances - the desire for love and what might be...but is so God damn difficult to attain.

Mae. "With your Bette Davis eyes and your mama's party dress."A call for a lifelong partner...is it someone real (Mae?) or is it an idealized and desired lover? Not sure. The singer goes into what he'd like to do, he is (and was) and how he'd like to have this girl along for a ride that could last.

National Anthem. "Take it easy baby, it ain't over yet."An acoustic closer to the album laments what was - both in American society and in the singer's relationship. Both his "American love."


What to get
45, Handwritten, Howl, Here Comes My Man, National Anthem, Mae

What to skip
Too Much Blood - OK idea for a song, but just not that compelling
Biloxi Parish - same comment

Best song
This is a close call to me between National Anthem and Howl - tie breaker goes to Howl, 'cause it's more upbeat and rockin'

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