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Album review: The Gaslight Anthem's 'American Slang'

June 14, 2010 |  6:13 pm

GASLIGHT_ANTHEM_240When the Gaslight Anthem's breakthrough album, “The '59 Sound,” landed in 2008, it made excellent use of a very out-of-fashion instrument: absolute earnestness. On tracks such as “High Lonesome” and “Old White Lincoln,” the New Jersey quartet channeled both the widescreen Americana of their state's favorite rock god, and the three-minute fervor of such Garden State street punk as the Bouncing Souls. Even the terminally hip couldn't help but be disarmed.

For “American Slang,” they dig even deeper into their source material — Otis, Elvis, Replacements. It's to dutiful and evocative effect, but a little bit at the expense of the punky pluck that leavened their highway-wide serious streak.

“The Diamond Church Street Choir” imagines a world in which Phil Spector had decided his core audience should be Detroit plant line workers instead of lovelorn teenage girls. “Stay Lucky” and “Boxer” come closest to the top-down singalongs of “The '59 Sound,” with restless guitar trilling and dynamic drum breaks, and Brian Fallon's gruff tenor still taps a deep vein of American male loneliness.

But while “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” and the deep burn of “We Did When We Were Young” show impulses to broaden Gaslight's songwriting palette, one color that hasn't entered is humor. This band is way too young to be singing about its “aging bones” yet.

The Gaslight Anthem is working in such an old strain of rock, it might be inevitable that history caught up to it. But any band this unafraid to mean it still needs to be savored.

— August Brown

The Gaslight Anthem
"American Slang"
Two and a half stars (Out of four stars)

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