July 23--The Gaslight Anthem live in a limited world of "Hey! Hey!" and "oh-sha-la-la" -- a world where Bruce Springsteen is boss, The Clash are kings and everything is filtered through The Replacements.
In other words, a pretty great place.
The Jersey band's fourth album "Handwritten" (Mercury), its first for a major label, reflects that familiar world while still offering a few surprises.
The Gaslight Anthem takes a lot of knocks for that familiarity, with Brian Fallon's Springsteenian phrasing and Alex Rosamilia's slashing guitar work, making the songs (and their influences) instantly recognizable.
However, the band does use those building blocks to create some extraordinary things. On "Mulholland Drive," Fallon attacks the verses like Joe Strummer before settling into a less confrontational rock stance in the chorus, used to set off Rosamilia's stunning solo and a triumphant bridge that hinges on the questions "Who came to wipe your tears away? Who came to bring back your dignity, baby?"
The strutting "Biloxi Parish" offers more searing guitar solos and more promises of faithfulness, while the hard-hitting first single, "45," promises a Replacements-fueled ride of a relationship told through a seven-inch slice of vinyl.
And the Gaslight Anthem does slip outside its comfort zone occasionally, as "Here Comes My Man" shows, using '60s-pop backing vocals and harmonies from Rosamilia and bassist Alex Levine. The Soundgarden-ish "Too Much Blood," complete with Fallon approximating some Chris Cornell-like howls, is an even bigger surprise.
"Handwritten" shows Fallon and friends can stretch without shifting their artistic visions.
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM
BOTTOM LINE Carrying the torch for new American rock