The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Posted on June 21, 2010

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Having sung the lyric “Great expectations, we had the greatest of expectations” on an album as popular and universally loved as the 59 Sound, it’s hard to fathom the sheer amount of pressure resting on Brian Fallon and the rest of The Gaslight Anthem’s shoulders. The 59 Sound was an album that was as loved as it was lovingly crafted with Fallon’s considerable blue collar romantic lyricism, peppered with Springsteen references, mingling with emotive guitar lines to spellbinding effect.

It was always going to be a challenge for the New Jersey punks, but general consensus was that if anyone could top the immersive 59 Sound it was the boys in Gaslight. Sadly though, American Slang never quite hits the same spot. It’s not that it attempts to move away from its predecessor’s sound which rankles, if anything it’s that it attempts to emulate, or just plain reuses, too many of that albums successful elements to often lacklustre effect.

When listening through American Slang there are times when the Jersey punks third effort seems like it might be a worthy successor after all, with the Stay Lucky and the title track providing the punkier straight ahead thrills. Further in and The Boxer and The Diamond Church Street Choir provide two of American Slang’s highlights whilst also serving to represent what a post 59 Gaslight are capable of. The Boxer strips down the instrumentation whilst providing an optimistic lyric about the soul healing powers of music whilst the latter throws away the rulebook entirely, incorporating finger-clicking doo-wop and an impressively soulful howl from Fallon.

Both of the above are extremely inventive and stand up as great songs in their own right, but they provide brief flashes of excellence that the rest of American Slang fails to live up to. Tracks like Old Haunts and Bring it On feel unfortunately like filler that could have been left over from 59 Sound, with guitar lines and themes lifted lazily straight from that album. This lack of fresh ideas permeates a lot of American Slang; sometimes it’s just in an overly familiar rhyme or solo, but it’s still there all the same and leaves the uneasy impression that American Slang has been forced to an extent so that people remember who The Gaslight Anthem are come festival season.

Still it’s difficult to be too harsh on Gaslight for not replicating past glories, and the joy that can be garnered from American Slang when it shows its full potential does just manage to outstrip the disappointment of its lazier moments. It makes you wonder though, if American Slang would have been better suited as a condensed E.P, or what it could have been with perhaps a bit more time to gestate and really grow to fulfil the potential on display.

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