Frontier Psychiatrist

Jersey Joys: A Review of Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

Posted on: August 2, 2012

Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

Gaslight Anthem

I’m not someone who really keeps up on the latest bands and releases. At home, I tend to listen to the songs I grew up with, a combination of my father’s old Motown and soul records and the punk rock I discovered in my teens. There are few active bands and singers who I would be excited about going to see or whose releases I wait for in anticipation. However, the Gaslight Anthem is one of the bands that has emerged in recent years as a clear favorite. Ever since I heard they were working on another studio album last year, I have been anxiously awaiting its release. So what I have to say about the record doesn’t come from the perspective of an (allegedly) objective reviewer, but from the perspective of a fan who knows all the lyrics to the songs on their previous albums.

When I listen to Gaslight Anthem, I wish it were a summer night on the boardwalk (though I picture Coney Island over their native Jersey), and also that I were ten years younger than I am now. There is something youthful about the all out intensity and naive sincerity of their songs–that attitude of living for the moment, going full blast, and knowing that if you die tonight it will not have been a life wasted. Allmusic lists the following themes for Gaslight Anthem: drinking, hanging out, road trips–easily some of my favorite things. Two other common themes are listening to the radio (another thing on my favorites list) and reminiscing over lost loves (which works for them, but I have no interest in such a thing myself). It’s hard to describe the transformational effect music can have on a person, but I’ll try to  sum it up in this instance: When I listen to the Gaslight Anthem, I feel larger than life, tougher than I really am, and more the person I wish I always could be.

Handwritten is the band’s fourth album, and it will not disappoint fans. The album contains anthemic singalongs alongside a few slow ballads. Gaslight Anthem has frequently been compared to both Bruce Springsteen and Social Distortion, but this album falls a little closer to Social D on the spectrum–good, clean working class punk rock about missed opportunities, unrequited love, and past regrets. It opens with the rollicking single “45,” which offers a new take on the age old advice: “turn the record over.” The chorus exclaims, “And all my friends say, / ‘Hey, hey, turn the record over. / Hey, hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side. / There you go, turn the key and engine over. / Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.’”

The songs keep in line with what fans would expect, with a couple of notable standouts. “Keepsake” is about growing up with an absent father, and “Here Comes My Man” puts a nice little spin on a familiar story: instead of the woman being the fool who doesn’t recognize what’s so good about a male friend, here the woman is singing about the man’s missed opportunities: “So I packed up my things and I faced all my doubts. / You know, I think I’ll grow my hair back out. / Nevermind what you think, nevermind what you like. / I’ll take it out to the street for someone else to admire.” The songs throughout the album are catchy, and the music is solid. Other notable tracks include “Mulholland Drive,” “Biloxi Parish,” and “Mae.” The album ends on a quiet note with the stripped down “National Anthem.”

What Gaslight Anthem is offering here is nothing groundbreaking or challenging. The album falls perfectly within the established paradigm.  We don’t really ask more from rock and roll, but the more I listened to the album this week (which was nearly all my waking hours), the more some things began to trouble me. The song “Howl” opens with the lines, “Hey, wake it up! Hey, shake it out! / Does anything move you since you’re educated now ?/ And all grown up and travelled so well…” The story told here is not new: small town boy stays home, while love interest leaves the town behind for another life, a much more meaningless life, as viewed through the protagonist’s eyes. Without context, I tweeted, “It’s possible to grow (get an education, travel) and not forget where you came from,” which received a few stars and one retweet, which is pretty decent for my meager following. And this too gets at the youthful nature of their music–ten years ago, with a chip on my shoulder, I would have felt that  it was me against the world. I have grown, but rock and roll hasn’t. And that’s fine because to be honest I’m not going to think too hard about what I listen to driving with the windows down and the stereo turned up high. And Handwritten, a solid effort from the band, will make for a good soundtrack driving through the city on a Friday night.


Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009). Recently, she’s been on a streak of interviewing indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, Dan Magers, Brian Oliu, and Justin Sirois. She lives in Atlanta.


5 Responses to "Jersey Joys: A Review of Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten"

Very awesome blog you have here! We definitely had to follow this 🙂
Great post!!!

[…] Myers is a staff writer and the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009). She recently reviewed Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten and has interviewed a series of indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, Dan Magers, Brian Oliu, […]

[…] Myers is a staff writer and the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009). She recently reviewed Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten and has interviewed a series of indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, Dan Magers, Brian Oliu, […]

[…] job including some rising punk bands up against these old favorites, including: Screaming Females, The Gaslight Anthem, Larry and His Flask, Off with Their Heads and White Mystery. While the focus is clearly on […]

[…] of A Model Year. She recently reviewed D. Nurkse’s new poetry collection A Night in Brooklyn and Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten. She has also interviewed a series of indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, Dan Magers, Brian […]

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