If being personally asked by Bruce Springsteen to write a duet doesn’t cement The Gaslight Anthem’s status as one of the finest purveyors of American heartland rock, nothing will. But the really astounding thing is that, after nine years away, their collaboration with the Boss on the title track isn’t even the best thing about their new record ‘History Books.’
Since the band’s inception, frontman Brian Fallon – with his road weathered voice – has captured the fractured romanticism of America’s past, and paired it with the trials of growing up in a country so full of promise and so broken at the same time.
‘History Books’ picks up exactly where the band left off, but with a renewed wind in their sails. Big guitars, anthemic singalongs and bruised and bloodied ballads are in no short supply, while Fallon’s existential lyricism reveals a renewed nuance to his songwriting.
Opener ‘Spider Bites’ locks horns with our fleeting existence. “We circle ‘round the sun until someday we won’t” he sings over the comforting reassurance of twinkling guitars. ‘Autumn’ with its evocative imagery of “Black jeans…sun going down,” is a bitter reflection on getting older. (“I wish I could do my life over / I’d be young better now.”)
But amidst the turmoil there is also an optimistic appreciation of full lives lived as well as they could be. Fallon understands that each life is unique and we all burn like the “Little Fires” he sings on one of the album’s standout tracks.
Some time away has done little to diminish the light of The Gaslight Anthem. Songs such as ‘Michigan, 1975’ are the perfect reminder of how the band can capture a feeling that’s almost impossible to describe.
Time may be indiscriminate, and its passing throws up questions few of us want to face, but Fallon seems determined to remind us that this can’t consume us. There is joy in the here and now, and as he sings on ‘Positive Charge’ “it’s good to be alive.”
Words: Craig Howieson