New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem release their fourth album, Handwritten, amid considerable weight of expectations. It’s their first for a major label, and the intention is that it will be the record that lifts them into the mainstream.
The initial impressions are that it is more commercial than its predecessors. The blustery Springsteen references of earlier records have been reined in. Instead the record often sounds like classic stadium pop-rock artists like Tom Petty, with occasional nods to the grungey melodies of Peal Jam.
Opener 45 is a classic retro lyric from songwriter Brian Fallon, using the image of a vinyl single to describe a relationship. Fallon is turning into a candid and subtle songwriter, characterised by the lyrical ambition he displays on tracks like Keepsake and Mulholland Drive.
The sound gets a little samey at times, with the band’s characteristic dynamics smoothed out a little too much. The mood is relieved by the last two standout tracks that diverge from the stadium-rock template. Mae is a delicious brooding ballad about heading out for a drive through those New Jersey streets. National Anthem is a delicate, acoustic track that ends the album on a meditative note. It harks back to the brooding power of their best early songs.
Hardcore fans who have been around since the punchy debut Sink Or Swim might be a little disappointed by the mainstream commercial polish that has been applied to the Gaslight sound, but there remains enough of the band’s character and identity beneath the surface for the songs to survive.