’s third full-length record, American Slang
, is a taut, punchy, lively affair that doesn’t significantly expand their sonic scope but makes for fun summer listening. Frontman Brian Fallon’s emotional vocals give the songs a common-man urgency, and the New Jersey quartet’s bar-band rock swings with notable passion. But despite these obvious pluses, American Slang
isn’t as consistently brilliant as one would hope.
A Catchy, Chewy Disc
From the beginning, the Gaslight Anthem have been hailed (but also somewhat criticized) for their ability to recall the optimistic energy of early Bruce Springsteen
while channeling the punk influences of the Clash
and Social Distortion. Especially on their 2008 breakthrough, The ’59 Sound
, the band showed an ambition to encompass country and soul as well, suggesting a quartet with a very high ceiling. American Slang
by no means feels like a letdown after the last album’s promise, but the impact of its catchy, chewy three-minute tunes tends not to linger very long. So don’t expect a hearty meal from this 34-minute record – instead, it’s like a sugary energy drink that will end up leaving you a little lethargic after its effects wear off.
Some Rocking Highlights
But even if it’s not some weighty epic, American Slang
has its share of treats. The title track kicks the album off with bracing gusto, telling a tale of bad love and dead fathers that’s reminiscent in spirit to another contemporary bar-band, the Hold Steady
. In fact, the Hold Steady’s recent Heaven Is Whenever
could almost be a companion piece to American Slang
in that both records measure the toll of failed relationships on people’s souls. That comes through clearest on American Slang
’s “Bring It On,” in which Fallon declares his undying devotion to a woman involved with someone else. “Give me the fevers that just won’t break,” he sings with pain in his voice, “and give me the children you don’t want to raise.” Yearning and bittersweet, “Bring It On” is a rousing ode to opening up your heart that has a cinematic quality to it. Plus, the song might make you cry.
A Poignant Tale of Regret
isn’t all up-tempo rockers, though. One of the album’s nicest moments comes during the closing track, “We Did It When We Were Young.” A plaintive ballad with a passing resemblance to Kings of Leon
’s “Use Somebody” – albeit without that song’s surging chorus – “We Did It When We Were Young” is a first-person account from a married man addressing a former lover who keeps sending him letters. On an album that’s often about the fragility of youth, the track is American Slang
’s most poignant, reflecting the tension of a narrator who doesn’t want to hear from a woman who clearly did a number on him when he was younger. For a guy who just turned 30, Fallon manages to convey the sense of regret that can haunt people much older than he is.
Weaker Tracks Drag Down 'American Slang'
If all of American Slang
were as stellar as these songs, it would have been far more memorable. Alas, it’s filled with too many good-not-great cuts that recycle punk-meets-rock riffs that fail to stick in the brain. And when the Gaslight Anthem stretch out sonically, like on the R&B-lite “The Diamond Church Street Choir,” it’s not an interesting diversion but, rather, a generic genre entry. The Gaslight Anthem are such a passionate band that you can’t help but like their smart lyrics and enthusiastic commitment to no-frills rock. But though their potential for greatness is without question, American Slang
suggests these guys haven’t quite gotten all the way there yet.
'American Slang' – Best Tracks:
“American Slang” (Purchase/Download
“Bring It On” (Purchase/Download
“We Did It When We Were Young” (Purchase/Download
“Stay Lucky” (Purchase/Download
Release date – June 15, 2010