NJ's Gaslight Anthem finds itself with self-assured third album 'American Slang'

On the first few Gaslight Anthem releases—two full-lengths and an EP—New Jersey-born singer, guitarist, and songwriter Brian Fallon put enthusiasm before artistry, scrawling broad-stroke valentines to his rock ‘n’ roll heroes: Tom Petty, Mike Ness, Joe Strummer, Counting Crows, and of course, Bruce Springsteen. The music was earnest, rousing and forthright: irresistible to true believers, unlistenable to cynics.

While not a tremendous departure, the third Gaslight album, “American Slang” (Side One Dummy), is the band’s least reverent, most self-assured yet. Fallon continues to draw from his usual influences, but his writing is cleaner and less bogged down with Boss affectations and allusions to other artists.

If Fallon’s narratives can still be a little vague—hazy sketches of overcoming adversity—he saves them with choice lines. “We were orphans before we were ever the sons of regret,” goes his battle-cry chorus on “Orphans.” “These bandages just don’t keep me in,” he sings on the title track, another one about the pains of growing up.

The band also shows musical growth, edging out of its pop-punk comfort zone. “The Diamond Street Church Choir” is a semi-realized stab at slinky Van Morrison barroom R&B, the type Springsteen referenced on “Kitty’s Back,” while the atmospheric “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” and “We Did It When We Were Young” reveal Gaslight’s affection for U2.

None of this will to satisfy the hardhearted, but it’s doubtful Fallon cares. He makes guileless records that uplift and redeem—the kind he likes to hear.

— Text by Kenneth Partridge, photo by Ashley Maile

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