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The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Jun 15, 2020.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    The first time I ever heard American Slang was in my freshman college dorm room, just a week or two from the end of school, on a gorgeous April spring day. Now, if I’d been a law-abiding listener, the wait to hear the new album from The Gaslight Anthem—their follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed The ’59 Sound—still would have been the better part of two months. American Slang didn’t officially hit the streets until June 15. But 2010 was maybe the golden age of album leaks, and as a broke college student with a budget for little more than gas and the occasional midnight McDonald’s run with my roommate, that fact was very good news for me. It also meant that American Slang, a bulletproof summer soundtrack album, got to serve as the bookend to my first year of college, and to all the anticipation I was feeling as four months of summer approached.

    When The ’59 Sound broke in 2008, The Gaslight Anthem quickly became one of the most buzzed-about rock bands in all the circles I was a part of online. Here was a band that respected classic rock traditions and made them sound new again; a band willing to pilfer from their influences in the most loving manner possible; a band whose frontman was, perhaps, worthy of being called “this generation’s Bruce Springsteen.” All that hype only became louder and louder throughout 2009 and into the early part of 2010, which meant that by the time Gaslight announced their new record, excitement for it was through the roof. A title and an album cover that seemed to promise another sweeping classic-rock-styled masterpiece? Well, who could resist that?

    The hype was such that, when American Slang hit the internet in April 2010, I had to break the campus internet rule of “no downloading” and pirate a copy. I showed restraint otherwise: the day American Slang leaked happened to be one of the most incredible windfalls of advance music ever to grace the internet. The events of that day are not well-documented—especially now that the forum archives of are gone—but for whatever reason, seemingly a dozen anticipated spring and summer releases leaked online within a matter of hours. It wasn’t just American Slang. If I remember correctly, that day also saw leaks of albums by The Black Keys, LCD Soundsystem, The Hold Steady, Band of Horses, The National, Josh Ritter, and Good Old War. But I knew if I was going to take the risk of getting written up for pirating music out of my dorm room, I was only going to chance it with one album, and that album was going to be American Slang.

    It was a good choice. On first listen, I thought the 34 rip-roaring minutes of American Slang sounded like an idyllic youthful summertime. The moment the title track’s titanic guitar riff started issuing from my shitty laptop speakers, I wanted nothing more than to pack the car, turn up the speakers, and hit the road to home—toward another epic summer in my hometown, with high school friends I hadn’t seen or raised hell with in way too long. I was still two weeks away from that moment: from packing up the dorm room; from the drive fueled by anticipation that this would be the greatest summer of my life; from being able to call up all my buddies and hit up all our old haunts. But American Slang made it feel like that moment was already here. There was even a song called “Old Haunts,” even if it was telling me that those places from my past were “for forgotten ghosts.”

    That’s the funny thing about American Slang in hindsight. I spent those first weeks—and indeed, that whole summer—treating it like a bulletproof summer soundtrack. It evoked, to me, the smell of rubber tires burning on blacktop roads or the feel of packed bars on sweltering summer nights. I heard it as a “we’re young and look at all these possibilities” record rather than as what it is, which is a “maybe we ain’t that young anymore” album. On The ’59 Sounds, the anecdotes of youth felt vivid and in-the-moment. Here, those stories feel like distant memories, washed away by time and age and incidence. The phrase “when you were young” (or “when we were young”) recurs repeatedly. “You’re never gonna find it/Like when you were young, and everybody used to call to lucky,” Fallon sings on “Stay Lucky.” On “Orphans,” it’s “When we were young, we were diamond Sinatras/Like something I saw in a dream.” And the closing track, simply titled “We Did It When We Were Young,” puts it plainest of all: “But I am older now/And we did it when we were young.”

    The songs on American Slang often sound as raucous as anything The Gaslight Anthem ever recorded. See “The Spirit of Jazz,” where the drums pound so wildly and viscerally that they even, at one point, take over the song. See “Bring It On,” which sounds like a vintage Motown classic. See “The Diamond Church Street Choir,” where Fallon sings like a ’70s Van Morrison over the loosest rhythm-and-blues bed the band ever laid down on tape. But if you read into the lyrics, you start to see that this record is really about what happens when your youth dries up—when you’re left to settle into a period of your life where the magic, while still present, isn’t quite as noticeable or as electrically charged as it used to be. “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” is an ode to a girl who trades her tendency for going out and dancing late into the night for a stable full-time day job. On “Orphans,” Fallon looks in the mirror and sees someone with “aging bones,” ponying up to a fountain to drink the blood of his heroes. And repeatedly, the guy who spent The ’59 Sound quoting songs by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Bob Segar to Adam Duritz, starts to question whether those songs still hold the promise he counted on in the old days. On “Stay Lucky,” Fallon talks about how “them old records won’t be saving your soul,” and he sounds almost matter-of-fact about it. By “Old Haunts,” he’s downright dismissive: “Don’t sing me the songs about the good times,” he bellows; “Those days are gone, and you should just let ’em go.”

    10 years later, American Slang sounds a lot sadder than it did in 2010. Maybe it’s the change in my perspective, from staring down the summer that did end up being the greatest of my life to staring down 30 and knowing that those kinds of carefree seasons are a relic of youth I won’t ever see again. Or maybe it’s the fact that we now know the (presumably) full story of The Gaslight Anthem—a band that seemed like they were only getting started back in 2010, but that ended up running out of gas just four years later under the strain of burnout, broken hearts, and backlash. I would have bet money back then on these guys becoming the kinda stable, dependable rock ‘n’ roll institution whose legacy spans decades. Now, I’m not even sure if those kinds of rock bands can exist anymore. I can take solace in the fact that Fallon is living a happy life and is still making records—great ones, even. But every time I drop the needle on this LP and hear that same torrent of guitar that once filled my college dorm room, I can’t help but wonder what happened to this band, and to the fortunes, they told us, in American slang.


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    delvec19 and Mary V like this.
  2. Pepetito

    Regular Supporter

    Love this album, though even right as it came out i was slightly "let down" by it from 59 sound. Now let down is a relative term comparing it to an album that's probably in my top 5 albums of all time.
    KidLightning and Walkabout like this.
  3. DarkHotline

    Run On, Girl, Run On Prestigious

    I think I’ve revisited this album the least out of TGA’s discography. Not a bad album by any means but it really didn’t hold up for me as the years went on.
  4. EntryLevelDave

    "I Would Do Anything For Love" Slaps. Supporter

    God, I love this album, and I will continue to die on the hill that "We Did It When We Were Young" is perfect and should never ever be replaced with "She Loves You."

    This was a good read and immediately made me put on this record. The funny thing is I had the exact experience you had, just a little earlier when I first got my hands on the '59 Sound. I got it a little later but I vividly remember packing my freshman dorm room heading off to home for the Summer with that album blasting.

    I actually hated American Slang at first because it didn't sound exactly like the '59 Sound. I wanted a sequel and was dismissive. I was so wrong.
  5. Loved this album from first listen. The hooks felt so big, the lyrics so perfect. God I love this album.
  6. Pepetito

    Regular Supporter

    Count me part of the people you want to fight in regards to your first paragraph lol
  7. aspeedomodel

    Cautiously pessimistic Prestigious

    This is their one album I never really got into. Not sure why, but it never really clicked with me.
  8. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    "Bring It On" came up on shuffle on my long run yesterday and it got me so pumped up. Classic summer record, with the band firing on all cylinders and pulling from some of the coolest influences ever. Springsteen, Motown (particularly '50s girl groups), Van Morrison, and more. It still sounds so fresh and so exciting today. I wish this band was still making music.
    Jason Tate likes this.
  9. EntryLevelDave

    "I Would Do Anything For Love" Slaps. Supporter

    I love She Loves You, and I'm glad it got new life on Fallon's latest solo album lol, but We Did It When We Were Young is such a perfect closer for that album.
    KidLightning likes this.
  10. soggytime


    2010 was a big year for me. It was the year I left for college far away from hometown. This, Enemy of the World, Blue Sky Noise, Omni, and My Dinosaur Life all take me back to that moment.
    Crisp X and paperlung like this.
  11. Walkabout


    write up makes me wish i liked it more. Not sure why but this record never really stuck with me like 59 Sound. Not a bad record by any means though!
    paperlung likes this.
  12. ARo24

    Regular Supporter

    Had no idea it was turning 10. I listened to it Saturday for the first time in forever and still love it just as much.
  13. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Any guesses?

    Jason Tate likes this.
  14. Sean Murphy

    moon pie, what a time to be alive. Supporter

    thats one of my favorite posters ever. i have it tattooed on my arm with "stay hungry stay free" in the banners where the bands name is.
    orangehorizon and CarpetElf like this.
  15. phaynes12

    playing in the band Prestigious

    don't like this nearly as much as the first two but it's much better than the following two
  16. ben mears


    I was driving my mom’s car and I left the CD inside. I guess she jammed to it for several days and she like it so much she bought me tickets to a gaslight show.
  17. AshlandATeam


    This is my favorite Gaslight album, and a contender for my favorite album of all time. The back half especially is just the greatest stretch of songs on any record, ever.
  18. prattsy


    Craig, I love your writing. This isn't the first time where our experiences with an album are so similar. Reading your posts I had this big tug of nostalgia on my heart. 2010 was my final year of University and the start of a knee-jerk decision to postpone my life and move across the country for work. This was my soundtrack to that and hearing that riff to American Slang, I'm immediately back in that place.
    Awesome write-up
    Craig Manning likes this.
  19. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    It's funny how so many of us have had mirror experiences with records. Makes me thankful for this community (and AbsolutePunk, where I first discovered Gaslight) for fostering so much sharing of the things we love. Thanks for the kind words!
    ctschwink likes this.
  20. This is my favorite GA album. So many awesome memories running to it during the hot and humid AF spring/summer this came out.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  21. grimis16

    Regular Supporter

    Great throwback review. I like how you added your own personal narrative, which can be very important for an album to click or not. This album is still special to me and I really feel the lyrics you referred to. It seems to hit me every summer.

    “Don’t sing me the songs about the good times,” he bellows; “Those days are gone, and you should just let ’em go.”
    Craig Manning likes this.
  22. adamlikesdogs


    This album's only flaw was that it followed the 59 sound.
    paperlung, Craig Manning and Pepetito like this.
  23. Steeeve Perry


    Great review Craig! I love this album although it is probably tied for third with Handwritten after The 59 Sound and Elsie (if we're counting all of Brian's work).
    I remember at the time having a real internal debate about whether American Slang had surpassed The 59 Sound and there was probably a time when it did. It just felt so packed with ideas.
    The 59 Sound has since that time become my favourite album so no real competition anymore but American Slang is still a classic and a 90/10 every day for me.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  24. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    I always have a lot of trouble ranking Fallon's records, because the run from The '59 Sound to Handwritten collectively means a lot to me. In particular, I have a lot of very fond memories of when Handwritten came out, even if that's probably the album of the four I reach for least these days.

    I had the same internal debate about Slang versus '59 Sound back then, though. I still do, sometimes.
    Jason Tate likes this.
  25. Leftandleaving

    I will be okay. everything Supporter

    def my fav of theirs. near perfect album. great writeup man
    Craig Manning likes this.