The Gaslight Anthem are nothing if not consistent. If heavy guitar riffs, slices of Americana and tragic stories of diner waitresses are your thing - you're going to love 'Handwritten'. If not, then you may want to pass on the album, but hey - at least you know what you're getting.
‘Handwritten’ is different in some ways, but familiar in others. The same stories are there – ‘Mae’ talks about a girl with ‘Bette Davis eyes’ and her ‘mama’s party dress’ – but this is the album where The Gaslight Anthem have really tried to expand their musical reach. Sadly – or happily, depending on your opinion – the ghost of Bruce Springsteen still haunts the album, particularly floating around ‘Here Comes My Man’, evident in each ‘sha la la.’
The opening track and lead single is ‘45’, which again hails from frontman and songwriter Brian Fallon’s place of nostalgia – “hey, hey, turn the record over / hey, hey, I’ll see you on the flip side,” he calls. But this is The Gaslight Anthem at their best – this is what they know how to do and they make sure that they do it well. At times, ‘45’ feels like a rallying call to arms and there’s something so jubilant and uplifting about it even as Fallon sings about his heart bleeding.
‘Howl’ is another stand-out track, relying almost entirely on ‘heeeey-eeeey’ wails – and yet it’s so, so easy to imagine how well this song will go down live, with the ‘hey’s being shouted back to the band from the crowd. More aggressive and in your face than possibly anything else on the album, Fallon takes your attention and does not let go for the entirety of the two minute track.
Songs about cars, radios, vinyl and heartbroken girls are a dime a dozen, but The Gaslight Anthem manage to make them feel new rather than adhering to the same old sound that we’ve heard before. In the past, they’ve been accused of simply rewriting the same song and sticking to a formula that they know works but, while the formula is still evident, the songs have definitely changed and evolved. Take ‘National Anthem’, the perfect ending to the album – acoustic and thoughtful with just a touch of melancholy.
From ‘Mullholland Drive’, complete with a rip-roaring 35 second guitar solo, to the dreamy and sinister ‘Too Much Blood’, Gaslight give it their all and, to their credit, don’t hold back. “I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same,” Fallon sings on ’45.’ With ‘Handwritten’, he’s managed to do both.