The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

New Jersey rockers mostly stay the course on fourth full-length album.

Released: 23/07/2012 on Mercury Records

With several critically-acclaimed albums under their belt, and a rapidly-growing fanbase on both sides of the pond, New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem have chosen to grace us with their new album, Handwritten. Having seen them play a sold-out set in Koko last month, this album was right up the top of my most anticipated albums for 2012. Now it’s here, and the burning question is: has Brian Fallon and his crew succeeded in creating yet another storming album?

The answer: mostly.

Let’s start with the good. Handwritten rocks. From the moment ‘45’ starts up it’s clear the band is playing to their strengths. Heady sing-along choruses and amped-up guitars are the order of the day. The lyrics talk of broken homes, small towns, working class blood and dreams of beauty: a romanticised version of small-town America that could only spring from the mind of those who worship at the altar of James Dean and Alan Ginsberg. Songs like ‘Howl’ and the aforementioned ‘45’ are some of the strongest songs Fallon has written. ‘Howl’ is especially potent, packing more energy into 2 minutes than most bands manage in a whole album.

However, it’s hard for me to escape the feeling that Handwritten is a bit too safe; a bit too familiar. There is little here that hasn’t been heard on previous offerings, and sadly that extends to Fallon’s lyrics. This is an album that grabs you by the jugular, but for once it’s not because of the songwriting, but because of the sheer volume in the guitar lines and the drums. Nothing approaches the naked emotion of ‘Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts’ - indeed the achingly quiet songs that peppered GA’s other albums are here limited to album closers ‘Mae’ and ‘National Anthem’ (though both are fantastic songs). The record is shot through with Fallon’s anger and energy, but once that fades, you realise he really isn’t saying anything new.

If it sounds like I’m being overly negative in that last paragraph, I’m really not. This is an excellent album. That bit’s important - print off this review and underline that in red. Go and buy it. Better still, get Amazon’s mp3 version, which has 4 bonus tracks tacked on. It’s hard to argue that this is a bad album: it’s fantastic high-energy rock from a group that are very skilled at what they do. However, that said, it is harder still to argue that this is the best The Gaslight Anthem have ever been. This is the sound of a band comfortably in their groove. It’s not a revolution, but it is a good album. And ‘good’ for The Gaslight Anthem is still several notches above most other bands.

Turn On: 45, Mae

Turn Off: Too Much Blood

UnderSong Rating
7.5/10 ★★★★★★★½☆☆