The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Release Date 14/06/2010 (SideOneDummy)

By Chris Gilliver

My love for Springteen has been a slow burning affair. It started off with a friend’s funeral where I’m On Fire was the theme tune to his cremation. A few years later Nebraska followed. The album’s tales of desperados at the fringes of American society fascinated, and the spare acoustic accompaniments were perfect for someone unable to accommodate the epic cheese of Born In The USA and Born To Run. When I finally realised, a few years later still, that Born In The USA is profoundly critical of the misuse of the country’s citizens (these same desperados) by its establishment, having previously believed it a nationalist anthem, my head ended up firmly over my heels – and I haven’t stopped spinning since. It no longer sounds cheesy, but inspirational.

The Gaslight Anthem firmly follows the standard set by Born In The USA. They may not have the breadth of instrumentation of Springsteen – American Slang is all drums and guitars without even the hint of a synth, sax etc. But here are the same epic songs carrying tales of everyday life, making the normal sound legendary. This is both a criticism and a compliment. “American Slang” is devoid of originality. And yet what American Slang lacks in originality it makes up for with punk spirit and that same grasp of melody mixed with a sense of the colossal. It’s very much as if Springsteen had come of age in CBGB – not surprising considering Brian Fallon’s (plutonic) love for Joe Strummer.

Though Fallon lacks the clarity of thought of his heroes, he focuses on the same targets with a lyricism that ranges from the solid to the supreme. The title track follows the life of someone destined for the gallows and hell. It’s as if the subject never has a chance. The Queen of Lower Chelsea borrows a trick from Fairytale of New York, comparing success and enjoyment with the confinements of a relationship. Fallon never glorifies success, preferring to give a voice to those out of the spotlight. This is the album’s strength.

The weakness comes with the one-dimensionality of the music. It is unremittingly epic, and this devalues Fallon’s attempts to make it epic in the first place. It would be like watching a film where every shot is remote and panoramic, where the tales of individuals are never told. This, ironically, is exactly the opposite of what The Gaslight Anthem set out to achieve. There is nothing to parallel I’m On Fire or Atlantic City.

So The Gaslight Anthem fall short of their aspirations. But they are ahead of many of their contemporaries. And if they fail in terms of musical sophistication, they succeed in expressing themselves. Few bands tell such stories with such eloquence and empathy. In that The Gaslight Anthem can feel that they’ve done themselves, their subjects and their heroes proud.

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