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The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang

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The first two albums by The Gaslight Anthem were impassioned pastiches of pop-punk and Americana, but they were overtly derivative at times, often packing lyrics and ideas from other people’s songs into tightly compressed rock-bombs. The band’s third LP, American Slang, represents a welcome, organic progression. It’s more varied in style than the excellent (but samey) The ’59 Sound, and the songs feel more original—the product of Brian Fallon’s notebooks, not his record collection. Fallon still recalls Van Morrison and Marah on the snappy “The Diamond Church Street Choir,” and American Slang’s lyrics still evoke Springsteen and Strummer in their earnest stabs at post-adolescent myth-making. But The Gaslight Anthem isn’t really about obeisance to the past this time out; from the line “We called for our fathers, but our fathers had died” in the surging title track to the rueful “old haunts are all we’ve ever known” in the walloping “Old Haunts,” American Slang calls for new stories. And while much of the record is focused on exploring New York City—Fallon’s new home—it takes a broader view on the people and places he’s singing about, putting them in a global context. Fallon sings better than ever, too, using his vocals as another rhythmic element in songs that build insistently, as on the steady-mounting, impressively layered “Bring It On.” It’s all in the service of a stirring call to renewal, cued to Fallon’s admonition, “God help the man who says, ‘If you’d have known me when.’”