Sunday, July 18, 2010

Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (4.5/5)

Nothing I've heard from Gaslight Anthem sounds like hardcore punk, but on American Slang the indie band channels classic Americana-style rock. They may be from New Jersey, but like Bruce Springsteen (also from New Jersey and whom they are often compared to), their sound evokes more the rural heartland. Last year they even played onstage with the Boss, surely a dream come true for them.

American Slang's mid-tempo and upbeat rock songs are really great--10 tracks, all quite efficiently over in just over 30 minutes. The opening title track beats its drums simply to a heavy guitar rhythm, scored at times with chimes. Lyrically, it lays out the themes of old school rock as if cataloging them, including abandonment ("I called out for my father, but my father had died") and the plight of the working class ("the fortunes came for the richer men, while we're left with gallows"). Gaslight Anthem doesn't need to dig deeper, since they are referencing their influences that have covered this ground before. "Stay Lucky" is faster and brighter sounding, although lyrically more depressing, as singer Brian Fallon recounts how those who are young and lucky are later neither.

New York references abound on this album. Manhattan gets a shout out at the end of "Stay Lucky." "Bring it On" puts its heart on its sleeve to court "the queen of the Bronx," in epic rock style. Lower Manhattan's Church Street is the setting for nightlife-loving"The Diamond Church Street Choir." "The Queen of Lower Chelsea," another highlight, has a particularly appealing guitar and bass melody. It's a bit moodier and less in-your-face than some of the other songs, making it stand out.

"Orphans" kicks the tempo back up with the kind of juiced-up guitar and drum rhythms that make your head and feet move as if subconsciously. "Boxer" delights with its bright melody and lyrical metaphors ("you found the bandages inside the pen, and the stitches on the radio"). Upbeat "The Spirit of Jazz" (which isn't jazz at all) is American Slang at it most punk. "We Did It When We Were Young" is the album at its calmest, closing the album with dramatic finality.

American Slang draws on '70s and '80s punk and rock sounds that have continued to influence bands today. As such, it has a rather timeless sound, like it could have been recorded at any point in the last 35 years.

Best: The Queen of Lower Chelsea, Boxer, American Slang, Stay Lucky, Orphans, Bring It On

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