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The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

The affin­ity I hold for the Gaslight Anthem has become dif­fi­cult to explain. The suc­cess in which Amer­i­can Slang has pro­pelled them to is as deserv­ing as I’ve ever seen

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The affin­ity I hold for the Gaslight Anthem has become dif­fi­cult to explain. The suc­cess in which Amer­i­can Slang has pro­pelled them to is as deserv­ing as I’ve ever seen– an hon­est to good­ness recep­tion fit­ting for a band so entrenched in the work­ing class ethos they have extolled since 2007’s Sink Or Swim. They spoke like Spring­steen, sang songs the way Ker­ouac wrote, and held strong the val­ues of Amer­i­can rock n’ roll. They were in every respect, the great Amer­i­can band for the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion. Amer­i­can Slang is an album end­lessly rich, the alba­tross on which they will undoubt­edly fly to immea­sur­able heights with.

Yet, in a strange sense, the suc­cess and global recep­tion almost works against the fables they preach. How does one relate to liv­ing the hard life when you’re at Glas­ton­bury amongst a hun­dred thou­sand strong? Does singing about just get­ting by lose some of its roman­ti­cism when you’re on the cover of a glossy mag­a­zine? I never really under­stood why so many peo­ple were in uproar when Dylan first plugged in– maybe I still don’t, but I guess a small part of me com­pels the ques­tion of how an unruf­fled soul con­nects to some­thing almost solely writ­ten for some­one below the line. Is there a greater under­stand­ing of cer­tain artists and gen­res when all of which it cel­e­brates is very much part of who you are?

An edu­cated and well-versed music enthu­si­ast can cer­tainly under­stand and appre­ci­ate var­i­ous styles, gen­res, and his­to­ries and still remain dis­tant, but will they ever con­nect to the music the same way as some­one who lives a life par­al­lel to the artist does? I’m not sure, but I know that when I lis­ten to Born to Run, I have a far greater con­nec­tion to it than when I lis­ten to The Ris­ing. So when The Gaslight Anthem start play­ing sta­di­ums (a very good pos­si­bil­ity than I’m actu­ally not against at all), will the music mean the same as when I saw them play in front of 100 peo­ple in a small, bro­ken down back­packer hotel on a sweaty August night? Peo­ple who saw Spring­steen in 1972 and then saw him again post-1984 may have that answer.

In the June 2010 issue of Big Cheese Mag­a­zine, they describe Amer­i­can Slang as “the pain of a bro­ken heart, sal­va­tion from the radio and love by the lights of the bar. The record is a per­fect mar­riage of expert sto­ry­telling, superb musi­cian­ship and clas­sic melodies.” It is an apt assess­ment and among the many rea­sons why it is such a good album. Brian Fal­lon has traded in his crunchy riffs of The ’59 Sound for more bluesy gui­tar licks, drop­ping ref­er­ences to Maria while expand­ing his already excel­lent grasp of cre­at­ing per­fect blue col­lar rock songs. You will be hard pressed to find a writer who is able to inject his music with actual, down to earth sub­stance bet­ter than Fal­lon. It’s gen­uine, all of it. And my favorite part about it all is that no mat­ter where I’ve trav­eled and what I’ve seen, there is some intan­gi­ble con­nec­tion to the music that will res­onate dif­fer­ently for each and every lis­tener. It’s a murky the­ory I know, and I don’t have the vocab­u­lary to explain it, but with every lis­ten of the clos­ing “We Did It When We Were Young”, I am reminded of life up to this point and I am hit with end­less con­tem­pla­tion and reflec­tion. It’s not about whether or not they wrote this song with any such inten­tion, it’s just that it is pow­er­ful enough to do so.

Strangely, I feel less com­pelled to talk about the actual songs them­selves; there are many rock crit­ics and writ­ers who will do a far greater job at explain­ing or jus­ti­fy­ing the praise with con­nec­tions to Dylan, Strum­mer, Miles Davis, and of course, Spring­steen. They’ll tell you about the great lit­er­ary ref­er­ences, the homage to the great cities and trails, and the many emo­tional highs and lows as painted by the chord pro­gres­sions and melodies. But for me, it is the last­ing impres­sion and con­tin­ued con­nec­tion they’ve painted since I first heard them in 2007; that life’s great­est reward comes from an unfor­get­table jour­ney regard­less of the final chap­ter. It reminds me of the many great pages left to write, and that fill­ing them through your time here is the only rea­son why we should wake up every day. It does not res­onate emo­tion­ally (save the clos­ing track) as much as The ’59 Sound does, but it con­tin­ues to do the great­est thing a band/an album/a song can do for me. The past is part of who you are, the present reminds us of this, and the future will always be unwrit­ten. It is the only part of their music I hope they keep intact no mat­ter where they go and what they do.

(SideOneDummy Records)

Reviews

Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler

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Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.

So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.

Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.

As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.

(Hopeless Records)

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