Two years ago, I unapologetically bought Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound. I say it without apology because I almost had the band ruined for me when I saw two “prototypical d-Bags” rocking out to the title track 3 times in a row while violating five rules of hipster pretension before a concert in the Red Rocks parking lot. A lesser individual may have been soured on a band after an experience like that, but fortunately I am made of stronger stock.
Fast-forward to two years later and I picked up their third album, American Slang. No apologies this time, either. The Gaslight Anthem is one of the bands worthy of the strange moniker of modern rock.1 They have put out a great, straight-up, rock album. Are some of the lyrics dripping with affectation and do they ring hollow? Yes.2 Are there a couple bubble-gum pop songs? Of course. Does a member of the band where a fedora? Sadly, yes. Is the album a scant 35 minutes long? Yep. Do any of these things take away from my enjoyment? Not even close.
A band can have songs that grab you by the soul and may even define an entire generation. I’m not ready to put American Slang on a pedestal, but to pass the “great album test” a record has to do a few things correctly. American Slang, even with all its shortcomings, does enough of them right.
10 tracks with great riffs? – Check.
1st track comes out and grabs you by the ears and says “Listen to me, dammit!” – Consider my ears grabbed
2nd track doesn’t lose any of that momentum? – Full speed ahead
Later tracks with weak openings made up for with solid choruses? – Done and done
Last track, be it fast or slow, full of enough emotion to give you closure on experiencing the body as a whole and doesn’t leave you expecting to hear another song afterwards? – Passing grade, but hard to pull off.
Relistenability?3 – Absolutely, especially coming in under 40 minutes.
If you want to listen to a band that Bruce Springsteen should pass the torch to when he’s done doing his thing, the Gaslight Anthem would make the finals cut. It is a fun, rock and roll album that gets better with every listen. American Slang is moving into “good thing we don’t listen to tapes anymore, because this one would get worn out” status. Any hipster credibility I had may have been shed with this review, but I offer no apology for enjoying this album.
May your purchase be as unapologetic as my own.
1. Modern implies the current era; you may as well call it present rock. What happens when we move past the era of “modern rock” and are even more modern? Post-modern rock brings images of several variations of Campbell’s Soup can paintings. We can’t bring backprogressive rock so stay where you are, Wang Chung. Daft Punk cornered the market on Robot Rock. Since we can’t fight the future, I propose nanobot rock. You’re welcome, music industry.
2. Some of you may have noticed my criticism of lyrics on my first two reviews. Much like how David Simon (The Wire) and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) have made me critical of television writing, bands like The Hold Steady and Drive By Truckers have made me appreciate good lyrics. But solid 3-chord progressions in music are like explosions in television; they make me overlook the imperfections.
3. I love making up words.