The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Saturday nights in Albany, Oregon weren’t the most exciting of times. What do 16 year old kids do when they’re old enough to drive but not old enough to do anything else, like buy liquor? Basically, you got into your friend’s car and “cruised the gut”, a circular strip that encompassed all the major focal points the town could offer: the pizza parlour, the 7-Eleven and the bowling alley. It may not sound like much, and maybe the snooty rich kids up in Lake Oswego could boast better, but hey, it was all we had. And what made you - or broke you - was the music blaring from the tinny car stereo. It had to be loud, it had to be fast and it had to be rock and roll. Back then we didn’t have i-pods or snazzy audio systems built into the trunk. No, we had to do with the tunes played on the FM radio stations or on the beat-up tape deck, and when your song came on you cranked it up to 11 just so everyone else around knew you were there and what you were about. Nothing says more about a person then the music they love. Hearing that song that got you into your favourite band is like the first time you ever got kissed. You never forget, and the feeling you get when you hear it is like being on the roller coaster as it shoots on down.
With American Slang New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem are set to be one of the biggest bands in the world and this is just the type of record we would have had screaming from our stereos back then. This is an album to fall in love to. Not that wishy washy smoochy kind, but the kind that comes from the gut and goes straight to your heart. The ones about meeting your baby, then losing her, and then winning her back again.
We may as well get the Springsteen references out the way early, so album opener and title track takes E Street Band-style drums and Brian Fallon's whiskey-shot vocals to propel the song at an infectious speed: "I got your name tattooed inside of my arm / I called for my father but my father had died / While you told me fortunes in American Slang." 'Stay Lucky' is like Coney Island in the sunshine, fast and fun while the gorgeous 'Bring It On' is blue collar life writ large: "So give me the fevers that just won't break / And give me the children you don't want to raise". 'The Diamond Church Street Choir' simply oozes with that Jersey shore feeling that is such an integral component to their sound.
Turbo charged ‘Orphans’ is a two finger salute to the crap hand that fate deals to you, a song about throwing the cards back in its face and slamming the door behind you. This may be their ‘Born To Run’, brimming with fury and fire, Benny Horowitz’s powerful drumming pounding away like a beating heart and the music fast like a speeding car heading out of town leaving the broken dreams and empty promises behind: "The clothes I wore just don't fit my soul anymore.” The album closes with the magnificent 'The Spirit Of Jazz' - "But I'm a cannonball to a house on fire and you're slow like Motown soul" - and the mournful 'We Did It When Were Young', Fallon's pained vocals perfectly conveying the song's anguish.
I don't really know what 16 year old kids back in Albany do nowadays on Saturday nights. Maybe they stay inside, surfing the 'net rather than hitting th streets, but American Slang is an album that needs to be enjoyed in the great wide open, that needs cranked up with the hardtop down. Annoy the neighbours and let them know who you are and what you're about. And as you're cooling your heels at the traffic lights listen to the lyrics. They speak of small town royalty and big time hoods, high hopes and broken dreams, and purifying your soul in a holy rock and roll communion. What do you do when your dreams come true? Where do you go when they fall apart? One thing's for sure, once this baby's out people will be waiting in line to have their fortunes told in American slang.