Let’s just get something straight right off the bat: The Gaslight Anthem has been the soundtrack to my life for the past two years.
It’s rare for me to run out and buy CDs, but when I heard “The ‘59 Sound” coming through my car radio on the way into the office one morning in ‘08, I said to myself, “I must have that album immediately.” I hadn’t fallen head-over-heels for a band like that since I was introduced to the Murder City Devils, and that was way back in 2002.
So when the Gaslight Anthem released their second album, American Slang in mid-June, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It probably was too much to expect it to be as good, from beginning to end, as The ‘59 Sound. To be fair, the band exploded when that album came out. The pressure to do another record of that caliber was probably tremendous and unrealistic.
Fans and critics alike have described the band as a punk-rock version of Bruce Springsteen. When my friend, Jon Iltis, told me he didn’t really like Bruce Springsteen, I tried to explain: I don’t really like Bruce Springsteen either, but this band is what you wish Bruce Springsteen had always sounded like. But on American Slang, The Gaslight Anthem tones down the punk and ramps up the Springsteen. The songs are generally slower and cleaner than on their previous album, and the gritty subject matter seems more invented than authentic (sort of like how Alkaline Trio force themselves to write cheesy, dark-themed songs now because their early, authentically dark songs were such a success).
One trend I’ve noticed over my 20 or so years of consuming rock music is that when the best song on an album is saved for track three, the album as a whole is usually good. But when the best song is the first track on an album, the rest of the album is usually mediocre, at best. American Slang commits this sin, with its titular and most engaging track leading off the album. You start bobbing your head and thinking, “Yeah, this is the Gaslight Anthem I know and love.” But even this first and best song moves too slowly and finds itself with no real place to go after the initial energy of the opening riff.
“Diamond Church Street Choir” usually makes me pause the album and listen to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” instead. And the rest of the album plods on at a pace that’s just slightly too slow and lacks the teeth of the band’s previous effort.
I don’t mean to be too hard on them. The songs are all good. They’re just not as good. It’s disappointing as a Gaslight Anthem album in the same way Darjeeling Limited was disappointing as a Wes Anderson movie.
The band deserves some credit for evolving their sound and creating an album that is sonicly different. But as a former New Jersey VFW Hall Punk Rocker, I think The Gaslight Anthem need to stick a little closer to their DIY Garden State roots, even if their Jersey Shore Boss’s roots are older and deeper.
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