I have thought about how I'm going to put this, and I have thought that I must sound incredibly biased to a band that I have loved since I heard The '59 Sound, but the truth is that Handwritten is stunning. It makes you feel happy, sad, angry; it makes you think, it makes you connect to the words, the drums, the guitars, you name it. It gives you shivers down your spine. This is what music is all about.
Brian Fallon, the genius behind the band's songwriting can be thanked for all the wrong reasons which have led to what is The Gaslight Anthem's best album to date. After crafting another side of him onto the near-perfect side project duo The Horrible Crowe's Elsie last September, he released a dark, sombre side of him which made Elsie the art of record that it is. But what had led to Fallon needing to release an album like Elsie, afterall The Gaslight Anthem were only achieving more and more after the release of 2010's American Slang. Whatever it was, he let out a lot of demons on that record, to which I'm thankful.
Handwritten is the most rock 'n roll out of The Gaslight Anthem's records. It combines the raw energy of Sink or Swim and The '59 Sound, it includes the soulfulness ofAmerican Slang and the captivating honesty of Elsie. It also has a 60's tinged influence, so this will reach out to an older crowd, as well as the young. Whoever's idea to bring in legendary producer Brendan O'Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine) made a fantastic call, he has perfectly assisted the band, he sits right for them, and this man needs as much credit as he can get.
'45' is the perfect album opener. It's fresh, lively and raw, and awfully catchy. It sets the level of expectation high, creating a strong image which the band want this album to have. Title track 'Handwritten' is one hell of a song. Credit has got to be given to the band as a whole, Benny Horowitz is an energetic, passionate drummer and his hard-hitting beats are combined so well with the shimmering guitar riffs of Alex Rosamilia and thumping bass lines of Alex Levine. It's an honest, passionate song, with some gorgeous words: “Here in the dark, I cherish the moonlight, I’m in love with the way you're in love with the night, And it travels from heart to limb to pen.”
WATCH // 'Handwritten'
The order of songs on this album is perfect, it flows like an album should, and the shimmering beauty of 'Here Comes My Man' is one of the stand out tracks, it's a well written contagious rock 'n roll track, with Fallon's vocals soaring, almost preaching the words, “Maybe time will tell you why I got so much hell to sell you, please, please understand me, oh you can't just dance around me”.
Fallon continues to preach in 'Mulholland Drive', his words so honest, his voice stronger than ever as he sings from the heart. We get a taste of harmonica in the solid guitar track 'Keepsake', another hearty track which perfectly slots into Handwritten. I've noticed that Handwritten contains a lot more riffs than previous records, and the heavy guitar work on 'Too Much Blood' shows their versatility to match the pace and rhythm of a song to the words being sung.
Regaining a fast pace in the 2-minute energetic 'Howl', this is the most fun and Punk Rock track of the album, it breaks up the album from the more serious songs, and it's a great that the band show off their Punk roots on Handwritten. The Gaslight Anthem have been playing 'Biloxi Parish' live for over a year now, so it almost seems like an old song to me when I finally hear the wonderful recorded version of it. Again, I can't rate the guitar work highly enough on this song, the riff is catchy, and the Rosamilia's guitar solo really makes this song a solid rock 'n roll track.
“What makes a man do the things that a man does? To be the very thing he perceives would capture your heart?” sings Fallon in the brutally honest 'Desire', a lyrically captivating song. By this point of the album, Handwritten has already become the band's best album to date, but the highlight comes in the last two tracks of this stunning album.
The pace is slowed right down, and we get a gorgeous song in the form of 'Mae' which is a more Horrible Crowes like song, it's soulful and a truly beautiful track, from the instrumentals, to the vocals and lyrics. This is Fallon at his best, and the words are truly beautiful: “While this city pumps its aching heart for one more drop of blood, we work our fingers down to dust and we wait for kingdom come, with the radio on”.
The Gaslight Anthem haven't included an acoustic song on an album since first record Sink or Swim, but have chosen a stripped down acoustic closing song for Handwritten, and man, is it stunning. 'National Anthem' summarises the way that The Gaslight Anthem have the ability to captivate listeners, and make a connection with them, something many bands will try, but never quite manage. It's a song from Fallon's heart, giving the impression that Handwritten was inspired by the ghosts in his life but whatever the reasons, I'm thankful for it and the band can be proud of themselves.
The Gaslight Anthem continue to outdo themselves on Handwritten, it contains everything I love about this band, with a whole new level added. It's absolutely stunning, and will stand as my album of the year so far. Let's just hope the band can continue to write records like this.
Handwritten is out July 23rd in the UK and July 24th in the US on Mercury Records.