Hype is a funny thing: young bands need it to grow their fanbase, but it can also lead to their demise by creating ridiculously high expectations that they fail to rise above. Jersey punk n’ rollers The Gaslight Anthem have faced a steadily-expanding amount of hype stemming from the near-universal praise of their first two full-length albums. That hype has reached a near-fever pitch (by indie band standards) leading up to the release of their third LP, American Slang, to the point where anything short of an outstanding album would seem a disappointment. Thankfully for the band and its fans, The Gaslight Anthem has risen to the occasion and delivered a massive record.
At its core, American Slang is an album that sounds about ready to burst at its seams. The rollicking lead guitar lines, big choruses, and urgent drums almost demand to be listened to while tearing up the highway with the windows all the way down and volume all the way up. This is a sound that threatens to blow the doors off of the sold-out clubs the band currently plays at and carry them straight into arenas just so it can be properly contained. For a testament to the bombasity (if such a word exists) of this record, look no further than the lead single, “American Slang.” When the bass-drum kick of the bridge builds into the last huge chorus, it is easy to imagine the energy created by the music fueling an entire arena of fans. Even when the volume is taken down a notch in songs like “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” American Slang still feels like a “big” record due to the strong, soul/R&B-inspired vocal harmonies.
Speaking of those harmonies, Gaslight has unleashed a few new tricks on this album. The band has never been shy to wear their rock and roll influences on their sleeve, but now they have also branched out into some of rock’s “sister” genres, like soul, R&B, and even doo-wop. They have somehow managed to blend these influences into their sound seamlessly, whether channeling “Please Mr. Postman” in “Bring it On” or working a double vocal line on “We Did It When We Were Young.” Perhaps it is this intermingling of influences that gives a lot of the tracks on American Slang a “lived-in” feeling, as if they could have been written at any time in the last 30 years and still have felt just as contemporary.
Undercutting the big sound and bright harmonies on the album is a recurrent theme of loss: loss of youth, loss of love, loss of fortune. This theme is defined differently in each song by how the characters deal with their particular loss, whether it be defiance, surrender, pining, etc. Lead songwriter Brian Fallon manages to tell these tales with a universality that belies his age. Even the most jaded listener should find something to empathize with, as Fallon’s deceptively simple, wickedly insightful lyrics speak to a commonality missing from so many songwriters’ repertoires today.
As great an album as American Slang is, it is not without its flaws. For one, there are times when the band goes a little too far in trying to add polish and comes across as overwrought. Two examples of this are the inexplicable vocal-beat intro to “Boxer” and the bridge of “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” which is best described as 1950s horror-movie ghost howling. The album also feels like it has somewhat of a pacing problem, as if it needs another song or two or the song order needs shuffling. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor quibbles that merely prevent a brilliant album from being a true masterpiece.
The bottom line: American Slang is an album that lives up to the hype that preceded it. While falling short of being a total masterpiece, it is an outstanding record that often feels like it’s channeling the very spirit of rock music.
For more information on The Gaslight Anthem check out their official website and get your copy of American Slang now on !