The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Coming to grips with maturity on their major-label debut
There’s something big-sounding and portentous about The Gaslight Anthem’s major-label debut. While part of it surely has to do with the brass-knuckled punch of producer Brendan O’Brien, the real spark seems to be the weight of the occasion. The New Jersey rockers have been primed for their shot at stardom since 2009, when a pair of well-timed U.K. appearances at Glastonbury and Hyde Park with surprise guest Bruce Springsteen helped elevate them from relative obscurity. American Slang followed — a punkish slab of blue-collar rock with tuneful nods to R&B (“The Diamond Church Street Choir”) and ’70s rock radio (“Bring It On”).
Handwritten continues the narrative, with an emphasis on anthems that feel ready-made for the arena. The shift might raise some eyebrows among the band’s hardcore base, but Brian Fallon still drives the party with his cultivated rasp, from the amped-up single “45″ to the emo-meets-Rod Stewart boogie of “Mulholland Drive.” He stands out most in “Keepsake,” where he bites down on death and redemption with a heavy heart — almost too heavy for a guy barely in his 30s. Overall, the band’s fifth album signifies they’re coming to grips with maturity, even if it does veer a few too many times toward the three-chords-and-a-backbeat formula. When you’re on stage looking out over a sea of illuminated iPhones and waving hands, that’s not necessarily a bad idea.