This is odd for the rock genre specifically, which has arguably defined youth in post-war generations (sock hops, greasers, punks, new wave, grunge, etc). With the few notable exceptions, rock music has predominantly belonged to the young.
The Gaslight Anthem packed their previous albums with references to 1950s soul, Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, Jimmy Ruffin, Sam Cooke, Bruce Springsteen, and The Counting Crows, serving their modern-alternative rock audience something different. Fallon's seamless switching between vintage references and original lyrics come off as a stream of consciousness for oldies-lovers born in the Internet Generation.
In a recent interview with Spin Magazine, Fallon has espoused an influence of Pearl Jam, mentioning that “our influences have music that already exists in the world. We don't need to be them.” Fallon wanted to step outside of his influences and thus changing the band’s sound and lyrics.
On their latest album, Handwritten, The Gaslight Anthem’s motivation seems to be tapping into a much younger place. This is the album where Gaslight tries to make their own non-derivative sound and lyrics. Their motivation for Handwritten was to minimize the retro allusions and make music that is of 2012. In other words, this is the New Jersey rockers’ attempt at a departure album.
The overall sound steps into more slick and messy guitars (“Mulholland Drive”) with slightly rougher vocals (”Blood on the Page”).
Fallon still manages to make references to songs of old. In “Here Comes My Man”, references are made to the Pixies and Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl.” “Blue Dahlia” references The Supremes’ “Come See About Me.” It seems that as original as Fallon wants to become, he will never abandon the hits of old.
Recalling the analog-o-phile Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Fallon mentioned in a Spinner video that he wanted to write this entire album by hand, making the use of digital recording devices as minimal as possible.
The middle of the album experiments with Fallon’s catholicism, with tracks celebrating a “Biloxi Parish” and “The National Anthem” mixing in lines like, “What's left for God to teach from his thrown? /And who will forgive us when he's gone?” As if shackled to a treadmill while trying to find his new sound, Fallon never really moves far from his Springsteen-ish singing voice and working class themes.
While Fallon and crew tried to venture into the land of Pearl Jam and finding their own sound on this album, the alterations are slight. Like their previous albums, there are references to Motown and Golden Oldies. However, there doesn’t seem to be as much pain, as much grit and urgency as The ’59 Sound. This album was a means for the band to experiment a bit with their sound and the content of their lyrics. For being Handwritten, the Gaslight Anthem’s fourth album has few personal touches or details. Not all experiments are successful, but they certainly are learning experiences.
Bulls Radio is going to be at Deluna Fest this September to see check out The Gaslight Anthem's set and see how Handwritten translates live.