The `60 Sound

I’ve been stuck on The Gaslight Anthem’s American Slang album for a while now. Actually, I haven’t really stopped listening to it since it came out this year. Most bands try to find ways to disguise their biggest influences, for fear that they be called imitators or impersonators, but The Gaslight Anthem has never tried to hide the fact that they work under The Boss. Indeed now they come with His seal of approval; they’ve been on stage with Bruce Springsteen a couple of times. Recently I heard a story that while performing with the boys at Hyde Park, Springsteen, having trouble with his set, turned to Brian Fallon and said “Help me out here, I’m an old man.” If that isn’t the closest thing to a torch passing we can have nowadays, I don’t know what is.

That might explain why ‘American Slang’ sounds more ambitious. The `59 Sound is still here, but older and bigger. It’s no longer just Springsteen being invoked and paid homage to – there’s also a little bit of Redding, Cooke, a little bit of Robinson (Smokey, that is), even a little bit of U2 (before they became, well, you know) and a whole lot of Strummer. But at the same time the songs in this album sound much more original than their previous efforts. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Fallon, whose songwriting has clearly developed. It’s given him and his band a lot more freedom to express themselves more. If he sounds a little nervous  on some of the songs (like a young Jersey boy  who’s gone out to see the big city) you’ll forgive him, because it only serves to lend his grizzled demeanor and shouty, smoker voice an even more interesting character. For such a young guy, he carries the sound of history, the sound of his hometown. Even if some of the lyrics make him sound a tad anxious, there’s no mistaking the confident growl of his voice.

There are plenty of energetic pop-gems in the album that are sure to get stuck in your head all day long and make you want to sing along out loud. Right now I’m stuck on the song Bring It On. It’s a song about a guy whose girl is thinking about leaving him for another guy. If it’s better than my love, Brian Fallon sings bravely, then bring it on. It’s an attitude you don’t get a lot in these kinds of songs. In fact the song. despite being under four minutes, runs the gamut of emotions. He accepts that she will leave (give me the fevers that just won’t break/give me the children you don’t want to raise) but he can’t help himself from still being concerned for her well-being (who’s gonna keep my baby warm when everybody goes). But he never acts like a victim, occasionally slipping into a defiant questioning (well now wait a minute/wait a minute/wasn’t I good to you). In the end though, he doesn’t stop her. If it’s better than my love, he says, then go on, take it all. He’s not a martyr, just a guy who knows how to love.

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