Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem - 'American Slang' (Sideonedummy)

Brian Fallon’s still offering up well-crafted tales of American life – but this time, something’s missing

For many people, The Gaslight Anthem were a revelation last summer. Since ‘The ’59 Sound’ edged its way out of the bedrooms of the faithful and into wider consciousness – thanks in no small part to the patronage of Bruce Springsteen – they’ve been on something of a victory lap, playing the same songs tour after tour as the venues expand appropriately. That album was a happy mongrel, stitched together using offcuts from frontman Brian Fallon’s record collection bound up with his ineffable songwriting skills. But its follow-up, ‘American Slang’, is a very different beast.

That’s not to say there aren’t any similarities: Alex Rosamilia’s twinkling guitar still wraps itself around Fallon’s bronzed street poetry like an embrace, with ‘Boxer’, ‘Stay Lucky’ and the title track especially garlanded, and Fallon himself still has the same eye for detail that made their ‘Señor And The Queen’ EP such an emotional bullet back in ’08. ‘The Diamond Street Church Choir’ has the irresistible soul swing of the ’50s rock’n’roll that informed ‘’59…’ and ‘We Did It When We Were Young’ pulls the classic trick of being desperately sad and intensely hopeful at the same time.

When Gaslight are in full flight, as they are on much of ‘…Slang’, they feel like the only band in the world who have ever mattered.Trouble is, Fallon has spoken of ‘American Slang’ being the first time he’s really used his own words to sing more personal stories, and that bold approach has led to a self-consciousness that handicaps the album. It feels like he – and by extension the rest of the band – are holding back slightly on ‘The Queen Of Lower Chelsea’, which is speckled with tiny moments of wonder rather than beautiful throughout, and the slightly turgid ‘Old Haunts’. The Gaslight of old would have made ‘The Spirit Of Jazz’ sound effortless not laboured, and it’s unclear just why the band’s supposed new-found confidence in their own collective voice sounds so nervous. It’s not like Fallon wants for creativity (check out his acoustic split seven-inch with Chuck Ragan for proof he can chuck out fine songs at will) but that final push that made the last album such a treat is missing.

Slimmed down to a chunky EP, this album would be a surefire 10/10 – snip a verse, bolt some of the more transcendent choruses to each other, whammo. Such was their impact over the last couple of years it’s fair to say Gaslight are a band who have made people’s lives immeasurably better simply by existing; ‘American Slang’ won’t change anyone’s world and it’s unfair to punish it for not, but we just hoped for… more.

Rob Parker

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Click here to get your copy of The Gaslight Anthem's 'American Slang' from the Rough Trade shop
7 / 10

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