The endless comparisons between The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen are more than earned, and if 2008’s The ’59 Sound was the band’s Born To Run, American Slang is their Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Their latest album is sparser and more pessimistic, the walls of hopeful, motorized guitar scrapped in favor of haunting solos that underscore frontman Brian Fallon’s hyper, yearning growl. His voice is devoid of reverb, exposing every sour note and skeleton creak, making for a batch of stories rooted in nostalgia and regret. It may be fiction, but the band has never sounded more earnestly vulnerable.
Lyrically, they revisit the same themes, locales, and characters found on their earlier albums but with a greater sense of despair. The Cool is dead, according to “American Jazz”, and idealistic lovers and ex-wives are “faded like your name on those jeans I burned”. Such melodramatic statements may be hard to swallow for some, but like The Boss’ best work, the best way to enjoy yourself is to completely surrender to the music’s epic, haunting street poetry. Images like “my mailbox is full of bombs” (“We Did It When We Were Young”) are grandiose, sure, but they’re also sincere and resonant; unbridled, tattooed riffs on familiar images of Americana.
There’s a touch of experimentation on the record as well, but it’s used sparingly and in all the right places, injecting the working class grit with a sense of whimsy. The jump-rope chorus of “Boxer” is a welcome dash of urban playground cheer after the boardwalk splinter of “Orphans”. The doo-wop upstroke of “The Diamond Street Church Choir”, while tame by Gaslight standards, is also their most finger-snapping tune to date.
But the band brings us back down to the crumbling concrete with “Old Haunts”. “Don’t sing me your songs about the good times”, howls Fallon. “Old haunts are for forgotten ghosts”. It’s the definitive lyric of the album’s abandoned beach house narrative, reminding us that while growing up is mystifying, looking back is painful. Here’s to looking forward, boys.