NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Handwritten, the latest album from the city’s own Gaslight Anthem, is 11 tracks that balance both catchy hooks, hard rocking sound, and top notch lyricism.
The Gaslight Anthem is what Bruce Springsteen would sound like if he grew up in the 80’s punk scene. Lead singer Brian Fallon makes it clear in his lyrics that the Boss is a major influence. Their first album, Sink or Swim, featured a track called “Navasink Bank,” which may as well have been “The River.” Other Springsteen references include several songs about “Maria” (the go to woman in many Bruce songs) and straight up quoting “I’m on Fire” on their breakout album The ‘59 Sound.
The band played in Bruce’s hometown of Asbury Park on May 20 at The Bamboozle music fest, and that night the Boss’s influence was clear in both sound and stage presence. Gaslight had clearly been taking notes while opening for him on a recent tour. And yet, even while playing in front of thousands, Gaslight Anthem makes you feel like you are watching them play an intimate New Brunswick basement show.
The Gaslight Anthem adds the requisite punk flavor prevalent in the sound of most New Brunswick bands. Groups like The Screaming Females, Thursday, and Streetlight Manifesto, and more recent acts such as hip-hop oriented Fuse to more mainstream rock influence Cotton have all had a punk feel.
The punk influence is apparent on tracks like “45,” “Handwritten,” and “Howl.” Besides Springsteen, the new album is reminiscent of Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Johnny Winter, and even a little Irish Folk music. The first single, “45,” is so catchy you’ll be singing along by the second chorus. Fallon’s gruff vocals on songs like “Too Much Blood” and “Mulholland Drive” add a level of emotion that takes those tracks to the next level.
The album closes with “National Anthem,” a haunting ballad that sounds somewhere between an acoustic Springsteen (think the album Nebraska) and Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
“So take what you need now, honey. And do what you like. Don’t worry about me, mama, I’m all right.”
Longtime fan and former New Brunswick resident, Brent Shibla put it this way “[Gaslight Anthem] is showing maturity by showcasing their influences while keeping their own sound. Fallon is at the top of his game lyrically.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.