Last year was an incredible one for New Jersey punks Gaslight Anthem. The small town boys made good with their blend of feel good nostalgia for the America of yesterday appealed to a great many, coinciding perfectly with a critical reappraisal of the work of Bruce Springsteen, their biggest influence.
The two met and performed together on each other songs at the Glastonbury Festival, London Calling, and other UK shows. Those shows felt heavy with symbolism, the perfect passing of the baton from a passed generation to a new one. The question is, what have they done with the standard that they are now bearing?
Well, not a great deal, if listening to this album is anything to go by. The dual influences of Springsteen and the Clash cast a long shadow over this album, as they did over ‘The 59 Sound’. That record was full of vintage Americana, old Lincolns, sailor tattoos, and old fashioned radio sets. It was also a record from a humble, blue collar perspective, that yearned for lost youth and innocence, and ‘American Slang’ offers a continuation of these elements.
Right throughout, nostalgia abounds, as on second track, ‘Stay Lucky’, Brian Fallon recalls how “everyone used to call you lucky when you were young”, but now, aged 25, “mother never told me there’d be days like these”. Note the past tense, which continues almost all the way through. On ‘The Boxer’, another mid-tempo number, the singer offers the darker side of memories, remembering how a boy once endured the regular beatings of his father, a former professional pugilist. “They say it never leaves you” is clearly loaded with double meaning, demonstrating the singer’s capacity for writing thoughtful lyrics.
Whereas on ‘The 59 Sound’, all this nostalgia and harking back to the past was refreshing, here, it’s so ubiquitous, it becomes banal, and repetitive. Even the lead singer seems to be sick of his own shtick, where on ‘Old Haunts’ towards the end of the record, he sings “so don’t sing me songs about the good times / those days are gone and you should just let ‘em go”.
Overall, it’s a record that rarely leaves mid-tempo. From the opening track that shares the title of the album, it’s clear that this is a more considered Gaslight, the musical parts are more distinct, better played and better mixed with more of sense of dynamics between the instruments. The guitars don’t clash and merge into a muddy mess, for example. There are stabs at newer sounds, with the Clash-like ska of ‘The Queen of Chelsea’, and the ‘Diamond Church Street Choir’ recalling The Boss’s funkier moments.
Sadly, these newer elements aren’t enough to salvage American Slang from being a distinctly average, rock record. It’s solid and decent, but nothing more. There aren’t enough strong songs on it, and not enough bravery to try new, bold ideas and sounds. It all amounts to a less successful version of ‘The 59 Sound’, and leaves you feeling the band’s chief songwriter has spent more than enough time looking at the past, and needs to start living in the present.
Mancunian Rating: 3/5