The Gaslight Anthem, ‘American Slang’ – First Listen

The first time a lot of people heard of The Gaslight Anthem was when Bruce Springsteen joined them onstage at Glastonbury 2009 – but they’d already built up a passionate fanbase long before that on the strength of second album ‘The ’59 Sound’, originally released in 2008.

Like The Hold Steady (who also have a new album out imminently), the New Jersey punks blend elements of positive hardcore with big-hearted, Springsteen-indebted lyrics. Consequently their gigs tend to be populated by bearded men getting drunk and emotional and clenching their fists.

The difference is, whereas The Hold Steady’s strengths all lie in their lyrics, The Gaslight Anthem can actually write tunes – ‘The ’59 Sound’ was full of them. On first listen, the hook count on its follow-up, ‘American Slang’ is not quite as high. Still, ahead of an in-depth review in an upcoming issue of the mag, here’s a track-by-track response.

American Slang
The Gaslight Anthem are fond of covering Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ live (the one The Strokes ripped off on ‘Last Nite’) and this opener boasts a choppy guitar riff that’s pure Tom Petty. Sample lyric: “And they cut me to ribbons… I’ve got your name tattooed inside of my arm”.

Stay Lucky
A fast-paced, ‘seize the day’ number, featuring the exhortation to, “Stop pacing around, waiting for some moment that might never arrive”. Betrays a Van Morrison influence.

Bring It On
The lyrics on this are pure early Springsteen – the opening line, “My Queen of the Bronx, blue eyes and spitfire” could have been lifted straight from ‘The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle’. Tempo-wise, it provides the album’s first let-up in the pace, as Brian Fallon sings: “Give me the children that you don’t want to raise.”

The Diamond Church Street Choir
Opening with finger clicks, again it’s reminiscent of Springsteen’s exuberant early days, back when he saw himself as a sort of bar-band version of a soul revue. By way of tribute, Fallon attempts some soulful ad-libbing at the end, singing higher than he ever has before.

The Queen Of Lower Chelsea
“Did you grow up lonesome, one of a kind/Were your records all you had to pass the time?” Tells the tale of a wayward youth growing up in New York (“Did you take all the right drugs?”), who finds redemption in music. This turns out to be a unifying theme on the album.

The biggest, most immediate anthem on the record, powered by a wonderful, tricksy guitar riff. The mood is, as ever, one of heart-on-sleeve defiance, although the chorus doesn’t make much sense: “We were orphans before we were ever the sons of regret.”

Another Tom Petty-esque FM rocker that articulates The Gaslight Anthem’s over-arching message: that music, and especially singing, can heal emotional wounds: “You found bandages in the band, stitches on the radio.”

Old Haunts
But what if music doesn’t always fill the hole in your soul? This track hints at the dangers of becoming mired in nostalgia: “Don’t sing me the songs about the good times, those days are gone and you should just let them go.”

The Spirit Of Jazz
Blasts off with an exhilarating intro – they’re good at those – before developing into a lyrically wistful tune about finding love on the streets of New York: “So was I good to you, the wife of my youth/Not another soul could love you like my rotten bones do.”

We Did It When We Were Young
Fittingly, the album closes with yet more nostalgia. The record’s sole mid-paced number, it builds slowly, with an insistent one-note riff chiming over moodily thumping drums. The repeated coda, “But I am older now, and we did it when we were young” is bound to get many an old punk blubbing into his pint this summer.

The Gaslight Anthem, ‘American Slang’, is released on June 14.