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– 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)