Gruffer and more evolved, Jersey’s finest half-punk, half-rock band The Gaslight Anthem return with their fourth LP, Handwritten, the group’s most cohesive and self-effacing release to date.
Right from the get-go, Handwritten hits a grand slam with the exemplary opening single “45”, an impressively polished and stirring break-up rock anthem (a track that inadvertently echoes the better days of Yellowcard, in all the best ways). This strong opening sets the capital-A on Handwritten, and gives us a sense of what to expect in latter ten tracks, each of which are practically just as consistent and cathartic. Songs like “Handwritten” and “Here Comes My Man”, while terrific in their niche for fist-pumping balladry, spark the lightning in the raincloud over The Gaslight Anthem’s heads: the Bruce Springsteen factor. In moments like the title track where lead singer Brian Fallon strains his voice with brute emotion, “And we waited for the sirens that never came / And we write by the moon / Every word handwritten”, he sounds just like Springsteen, creating the most uncanny, carbon copy effect The Gaslight Anthem have produced to date.
Moments like those on “Handwritten”, the confident and high-fidelity track “Mulholland Drive” and “Biloxi Parish”, the most kick-ass moment of Handwritten, make a defiant, no-bullshit statement for poetry in streamlined rock music. While many rock artists find themselves treading the delicate line between constructing tenacious music, emotionally and sonically, the resulting concoctions often come with a mistreatment to lyrical quality or musical influences. Rock music, for many, is seen as the most unrestrained musical canvas, hence the desire to stretch the limits of it tends to be a compulsion. That being said, it makes sense why bands tend to go downhill from traditionally superior early material over their career. This is where The Gaslight Anthem come out on top. Instead of progressing through various stylistic changes after their “glory days”, The Gaslight Anthem work to find their conscience in every style, including past albums like Sink or Swim or The ‘59 Sound; every album is a step in getting closer to their true voice and on Handwritten, they’ve truly found it, consummately.
Listeners who are deeply invested in underground music culture may feel tainted in enjoying a play-through of Handwritten because of how suitably American it sounds and how its bolstering, rocking spirit behaves, but there’s no need to keep your guard up. Handwritten is a genuine work of achy-yet-empowered lyrics, well-produced heartland rock, and unrestrained artistic spirit with only the most solemn intentions.