Long before New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem released their new album, American Slang, this week, comparisons to another famous Garden State rocker have followed them every step of the way.
Both Bruce Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon are proud Irish Americans that display an uncanny ability to tell stories, which is an Irish custom.
“We had the greatest expectations/I saw tail lights about my first wife in the dream I had last night/everybody leaves, why wouldn’t you?” sings Fallon on a track from their classic The Old 59, a song from their last album that personifies the stories of love lost on the open road that made The Boss the great American poet he is today.
To ice the cake, Gaslight Anthem is the highlight of a busy summer schedule on the Stone Pony’s summer stage (they play there August 5), which is the house that Bruce built in Asbury Park.
Musically, Fallon and Springsteen couldn’t be more different. Guitars slash through Anthem’s rhythm section like a rusty razor blade as Fallon pleads his case to the American people.
“Look what you started/I seem to be coming out of my skin/look what you have forgotten here/the bandages don’t seem to keep me in,” he pleads on the title track, kicking off a collection of wickedly addictive songs chock full of unvarnished riffs.
The album is released on the punk label SideOneDummy, and the tattoos that paint Fallon’s forearms give off a brawny aggression as his hands move up and down the frets, but the band knows better than to kill a good melody with speed.
“She Loves You” has a closing time vibe of handclaps and lazy guitars that shake off a night’s worth or drinking, like some of the best songs of the Faces. You find yourself joining the band as they huddle around a microphone for the sing-song chorus of “if all was well and your heart could find the words/would we be for better, baby/would we be for worse/if there was a way to navigate your seas/if tonight my true love/they’d belong to me.”
“The Queen of Lower Chelsea” consists of a restless beat married with a spaghetti western melody created by watery guitars. This is a trick most one-dimensional punk rockers could never pull off.
“We wanted to get away from the big open chords of folk strumming chords,” Fallon explains on the promotional interview video. “This music is in parts, they are riffs like Keith Richards.”
Fallon says he took out the first three Clash records as an influence.
“London Calling is slower and more confident than just making noise, like they did on their first two albums,” he says. “That album was my assurance that I am on the right track. I wanted to make a Clash album that was missing in my record collection.”
There are elements of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements amidst the catchy riffs, Motown chorus and bleak stories. “The Spirit of Jazz” sounds like something from the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me, which is just about the highest compliment this reviewer can give.
“You’ve gotta give people something worth buying, something that is worth spending time with. I don’t know if this is a great record, and I don’t know if everyone is going to like it or not, but I do know that it is worth a listen,” says Fallon.
I’ll drink to that. Just when you think everyone is GaGa over pop, along comes an album like American Slang to restore your faith in rock and roll.
The Gaslight Anthem is “born to run” for years to come.