“American Slang” is The Gaslight Anthem’s finest record. It’s more complex, more interesting, and generally offers more depth to the listening experience in every conceivable way. The songwriting is superb, and challenges both the band and its audience. It’s more engaging than the first two albums, too; deciphering this one takes much more effort than playing the guess-the-reference game.
In other words, it’s a grown-up record. “Sink or Swim” and “The ’59 Sound” are young men’s albums, while “American Slang” is purposefully more adult. The shift can be jarring at times, given there was less than two years between the last one and “American Slang,” but the transition rings true for me. Fallon and I are almost the same age, and there’s just something about turning 30 that changes a person. It’s not that I feel “old” or “mature,” or that I started listening to completely different music, or any of that. But it’s just … different. I’ll now be watching to see how he reconciles his current slate of songs with the older stuff, because they seem almost contradictory now.
All of those strange, mixed emotions are reflected in “American Slang.” The Gaslight Anthem didn’t change who they are, because this album imbues all the things I’ve come to love about them: it rocks as hard in spots as any of their previous work, and they’re not playing with any less passion or integrity or fervor. And Fallon still writes in the storytelling style that’s made him such an engaging figure. But the focus, the seriousness, the self-awareness, the intention of the endeavor … these are new things, and they are welcome. With this album, The Gaslight Anthem went from four guys not believing how lucky they are to make records for a living to four artists ready to stand on their own.
At this point, however, it is not my favorite of the three, despite its technical superiority. “The ’59 Sound” will be hard for this band to ever top—or any other, for that matter. That album is pure joy, and “American Slang” isn’t going for that aesthetic.
This is, though, a triumph for The Gaslight Anthem. There was enormous pressure coming into these recording sessions, and the band delivered an album that more than lives up to expectations. It expands their sound without relinquishing what made them great in the first place. That’s a trick many bands can’t manage, but Gaslight does it with aplomb. “Sink or Swim” was the spark; “The ’59 Sound” made them famous; “American Slang” sets them apart.
Favorite Track: “The Diamond Street Church Choir”
Least Favorite Track: “We Did It When We Were Young”