The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten [Album Review]

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The Gaslight Anthem
Mercury Records [2012]

Longevity is what every band dreams of from the very first day they place an ad in the paper to find a drummer, play at a dive bar, and then progress to sleeping on floors in unfamiliar towns, living out of a van. New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem is no exception, and everything about their fourth album, Handwritten, exclaims, ‘We are aiming for the big time.'”

From the stylistic old rock album cover art, which includes the four musicians’ names in a large font under the record title, to their debut on a major label with a big-name producer in Brendan O’Brien (known for working with Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, and The Killers), and a larger-than-life working man’s sound that should resonate with the masses, ‘Handwritten’ easily stands out as the biggest record in the Gaslight catalog. With that said, you might start to worry that potential stardom has gone to the band’s head. However, what happens here is that The Gaslight Anthem draws you into their world and doesn’t let go.

It all begins with the opening track and first single, “45,” which is an absolute rocker that lays their cards on the table without apologies, compelling you to sing along. The following title track kicks off with successive loud “whoo-oohs” before diving into the first verse. This tight, almost four-minute song structure repeats throughout the album, and it’s interrupted by one of the best midpoints on the record, “Too Much Blood.” This foot-tapping five-minute track boasts a memorable riff by guitarist Alex Rosamilia and showcases singer Brian Fallon hitting all the vocal strides reminiscent of Springsteen, allowing the song to soar.

More so than on their previous efforts, Handwritten features a greater balance of mid-tempo numbers alongside their high-octane rock, with their punk undertones taking a back seat. This stylistic shift works in the band’s favor as their maturity shines through in Handwritten. The album’s solid closing acoustic ballad, “National Anthem,” covers themes of love, God, and life. Fallon lyrically concludes the record by singing, “I’ll never forget you, my American love, and I’ll always remember you wild as they come.”

The production by O’Brien on Handwritten is classic, as he manages to preserve all the grit and sweat that The Gaslight Anthem invest in their records while making each song shine with a rock gloss that enhances replay value. Handwritten is an album that grabs your attention right away but also grows on you with time. Longtime fans might question whether The Gaslight Anthem has sold out and moved on, but in reality, what they’ve achieved with Handwritten is a step closer to their own longevity. It might not be the best record you’ve ever heard, but it is one of the most consistent. With enough listens, it becomes ingrained in your head, never leaving your shuffle, and can turn you into a longtime fan. What more could a band (or fan) ask for?

“45″ / “Too Much Blood” / “National Anthem”

Bruce Springsteen / Sharks / Social Distortion

iTunes Session (2011) / American Slang (2010) / The ’59 Sound (2008)

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Christopher Anthony
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