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The Gaslight Anthem, ‘Handwritten’ – Album Review

Mercury Records

The first time I fell recklessly in love, the Gaslight Anthem was our soundtrack, their late night howls and raging raptures so much our own, and again Gaslight’s tattooed hands held it in its death. And so it was with a heavy heart — and recognition of my own dramatic ridiculousness — that I’ve plunged into ‘Handwritten,’ the New Jersey band’s fourth studio album.

This is a case of a band refining, rather than expanding, their sound, as ‘Handwritten’ is so much an exercise of previously explored themes. There’s the downtrodden honesty, the tough-guy romance, the endless nostalgia. While the album can’t hope to burn with the same ferocity as their ’59 Sound,’ the record is probably their strongest since that breakthrough. The band, in their younger years, were so much about the wilderness of coming of age, and they now find themselves in mourning for what was. The title track admits that the reason for writing is to “to ease the loss of youth, and how many year’s I’ve missed you.” As that and the just-the-facts album cover suggests, Gaslight are earnest, honest and direct.

Indeed, ‘Handwritten’ is at its strongest at its most simple. ‘Howl’ does as it promises, delivering two minutes of emotion and adrenaline, with frontman Brian Fallon asking if “there’s still some magic still left in our souls?” They are so much in the same vein as fellow sensitive badasses Japandroids and Titus Andronicus, with Fallon offering up over-the-top ultimatums, like the ‘Biloxi Parish’ promise that “I will eventually haunt you or you’ll eventually be my queen.”

There’s a charge to be made that all this thematic revisiting gets to the point of rehash, with lugubrious lines like “If I just tell the truth are there only lies left to you?” or “There’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same.” But if you’re a sucker for woah-oh-ohs, nocturnal narratives and all the ones that got away, Fallon’s Lord Byron of the Jersey Shore act is mosh pit catnip. So stay up all night and hold her tight: This moment will only be something to reminisce about tomorrow.

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