My best attempt at a succinct review: The Gaslight Anthem's first album on a major record label (Mercury) is a triumph. Handwritten immediately met my expectations upon first listen. Musically it's not vastly different from their signature blue-collar heartland punk rock sound of The '59 Sound and American Slang, but there are quite a few curve-balls thrown in to keep things interesting. This music is made for the live stage. The freshness has far from worn off, and if there's one thing that keeps me coming back over and over again, it's Brian Fallon's songwriting. Simply incredible. He's put some of his most personal stuff down -- I loved what he did with the Horrible Crowes Elsie last year, but these new lyrics blow it miles out of the water. There's a lot of breaking down of walls between him and his demons.
It sets the tone of the album just right. A mission statement. A very 'mainstream rock' sound; and one that harks back to the ferocity of the more edgy songs off their debut, Sink Or Swim. It's always awesome when there's a lyrical marriage of music records and human relationships.
One of the best songs Gaslight has ever done. Period. I've never heard Brian sound so 'old' and 'worn out' before; I love it. It's like he's aged ten years or something. Emotionally this song just kills me every time I listen. And the music video brings it right home -- I never thought it could be interpreted that way. Wanna hear the best "ooohhhh" chants in a Gaslight song? It's right here.
"I’m in love with the way you're in love with the night/ And it travels from heart to limb to pen" What a line.
3. Here Comes My Man
You could say it's nothing like what they've done previously. Motown-inspired instrumentation, driven by a Rickenbacker. There's a Phil Spector-cum-garage rock quality to it. Gaslight songs have always been very 'manly', but for the first time, Brian sings from the perspective of a heartbroken female. It's not that big of a deal right, singing for the opposite sex. But here, Brian manages to pulls it off perfectly. There's so much soul in his voice. Great outtro to boot.
Never mind what you think, never mind what you like/
I'll take it out to the streets for somebody else to admire
4. Mulholland Drive
Another amazing one. Brian is apparently a fan of the movie of the same name. This probably has nothing to do with the David Lynch classic, but I can't help but think of the two female leads. I think it features the longest guitar solo so far by Alex Rosamilia, who has improved tremendously since American Slang. He's kinda got his own unique style now.
By now it's pretty obvious which direction the band is heading towards. Everything is bigger, more arena-rock, more catchy. But the music still retains that 'down to earth' quality. Brian sings about the absence of his father during his childhood years. No matter how much you can't relate to the lyrics, the song's never impersonal. He writes and sings as if you lived and breathed those words.
6. Too Much Blood
I'd say the direct influence of this is Chris Cornell. The centerpiece of the album. It's five minutes long! I like that the chorus is more subdued than the verses. I can't say enough good things about Brian's vocals. He sends chills down my spine, in a good way. It's almost palpable. He's coming from a place where we've all been before at some point in our lives.
Two-minute fist pumper. It's something very familiar coming from them, lyrically and musically, but it's still surprisingly refreshing. The line, "And I love the country movement in the way your dress would wave, from your hips on down, like electric through the ground" is so, so good.
8. Biloxi Parish
If I'm not wrong, they debuted this song live at least one year ago. It's a little different, a little on the bluesy side. Again, another big huge chorus. By this point in the record, the music has not let up one bit. It's still incredibly consistent.
Involves a subject matter that every man and woman has dealt with before. Insanely catchy and melodic, like every song here so far. It reminds me of Casanova Baby, but minus the Springsteen-type lyrical references. I'm glad he's gone away from all that now.
One big difference between this new album and their earlier stuff is notice how now Brian doesn't mention any girls' names, nor does he make reference to classic 50s teenage and rock & roll imagery. There's a little bit of that here. And like the title track, it's one of the best ones they've ever done. It's stunning. It's very U2-esque in nature, with some nice Edge echo-drenched guitar in the chorus. Unfortunately it reminds me of what Coldplay likes to do; except Gaslight does it much better than that sissy British group.
11. National Anthem
Maybe this is becoming like a tradition of sorts; closing the record with something soft. It's up there with The Navesink Banks. "I'll never forget you, my American love" -- who sings this kind of stuff nowadays? I always love it when Brian mentions America in any song.
The souped-up production by Brendan O'Brien brings out the best in the rhythm section. Alex Levine and my current favorite drummer, Benny Horowitz have never sounded better. Handwritten is the turning point in the band's career, and they already have three strong albums previously under their belt. I would like to see them get more noticed now. But I hope they keep on maintaining their integrity and not sell themselves out in the near future. Honestly I could see them continuing down the path that Pearl Jam went back in the mid '90s. Handwritten is a lifesaver. It's the album I've been waiting for my whole life.
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P.S. The bonus tracks from the deluxe edition (not really digging the alternate 'white' cover) include two covers; Nirvana's Silver and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' You Got Lucky. For the former, Brian's voice literally becomes Kurt Cobain's; it's almost exactly the same it's scary. The latter is more garage than the one from '82, more focused on the guitars than the synthesizer. The original bonus track is Blue Dahlia, which is probably the most unconventional tune, by Gaslight's standards. But it's very catchy, despite all the weird chord changes.