Thursday, July 22, 2010

‘American Slang,’ The Gaslight Anthem: The American Dream

My only problem with this entire album is, strangely enough, its premise. It drives me insane when people living the American Dream turn around and criticize it. Brian Fallon says this record is about the realities of life, that the American Dream doesn’t exist the way people think it does. I say to them: Maybe your understanding of it was wrong to begin with.

I’ve never thought of the American Dream as my personal ticket to fame, fortune, and life on easy street. The American Dream merely provides you a chance to accomplish great things, based on your own talent and work ethic. What’s made this country the light of the world for more than two centuries is the freedom it provides its people to achieve as much or as little as they want. But who ever said it was supposed to be easy? (Whether this is still even possible in the Age of Obama is a subject for another time …)

Fallon and his bandmates are the embodiment of the American Dream. Here are four guys 30 years old or younger who are playing music for a living, touring around two continents. They’re not filthy rich (yet, but that could be coming if they keep putting out albums like this one). But they’re not punching a clock for a living, that’s for sure. They’re doing exactly what they want to do, exactly how they want to do it. And they earned it, by toiling thanklessly in basement bands for years, honing their incredible talents until, finally, they got their break and grabbed it for all it was worth. What on earth is wrong with that? Where did the American Dream let these guys down, exactly?

This is the most unfortunate way The Gaslight Anthem have applied the influence of Bruce Springsteen, the supposed “voice of the working man.” Thank goodness they go one step further. Rather than simply focusing on what they don’t like, Fallon & Co. offer an answer of sorts in, ironically, qualities essential to the American Dream: commitment, resilience, and the abilities to look for the best in people, learn from mistakes, and improve. Disillusionment with the dream is merely the premise of “American Slang,” not its sum total. They’re too inherently positive to just focus on the bad stuff; I don’t know if its Fallon’s belief in Christ or not, but his faith certainly can’t hurt.

“American Slang” is, ultimately, a remarkably uplifting piece of work—whether they set out for it to be such or not. And in that way, it fits right in with the band’s other two records.

Tomorrow: Final thoughts

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