POZ Review: The Gaslight Anthem - Hold You Up

by Zack Zarrillo - Nov 20, 2012

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The Gaslight Anthem is a rock ’n’ roll band. So much of a rock ’n’ roll band—or perhaps just a band with a pushy publicist, intelligent manager, savvy record label representative, or extra material laying around on the cutting room floor—that they are pressing a 10” in honor of Record Store Day, Hold You Up, which is now streaming online.

If their 2008 sophomore offering, The ’59 Sound, was a bunch of punks realizing success stemming from tuning a guitar and singing on key, and 2010’s American Slang was essentially a Bruce Springsteen tribute wrapped up in the lyricism of epics, among open, anthemic chords of Jersey Shore blues-rock, and an unyielding, wild drumkit, then this year’s Handwritten is The Gaslight Anthem’s self-actualization. It is where punk rock and ballads collide, where lead singer Brian Fallon guides the record rather than let Bruce dictate by proxy, finds the sweet spot among driving drums and soft melodies, and, at long last, adds some nuance and signature to the tried-and-true formulae of rockers of old. 

And, with this progress on the books, The Gaslight Anthem, in the midst of their American tour, sets the pace for their next release: raspy, unplugged, raw, engaging and with an undercurrent that packs a punch. It’s the autumn melancholy we’re all eager to indulge in—the more dapper, somber foil to Handwritten’s summertime hope and eager beats—a release supple with ripe melodies, whimsical yearning, and subtle, constant percussion. But mostly, melodically hoarse whines you’ll suffer gladly.

Referencing their point of departure, The Gaslight Anthem 10” opens up with “Here Comes My Man,” the third single from Handwritten and a true earworm: more a foot-stomper than foot-tapper with a tangy guitar line, featuring infectious “oh, sha-la-la”s at every turn. Lyrically it’s just as unapologetically self-important and captivating: “Listen, honey, here comes my man,” Fallon croons time and again, somewhere between sassy and honest. It’s the quintessential song of a phoenix rising from the ashes—a girl power one at that, for the tune is penned from the imagined experience of a woman deciding to move on from an unrequited love. 

This is a moderately interesting risk for the band, but a necessary one, for musically, little pushes the envelope—but like a favorite sweatshirt or trusted pair of boots, it’s refreshing, comfortable and guarantees three-and-a-half minutes of unwavering grooving and perhaps consequential endorphins.

But in this collection of songs, “Here Comes My Man” is the black sheep. Two original songs, “Misery” and “Hold You Up,” are melancholy incarnate, complete with the verbalization of a dream that is absolutely out of reach. Fallon’s voice drops from strong belts to raspy, low grumbles—articulate ones with a touch of tune, but hoarse nonetheless. “Misery” is no lazy name: a picked acoustic guitar, slow and steady, and the vocal melody, in all of its hushed dynamic, running the show, will the listener to lament. Harmonies agonize the chorus, a floating echo over lyrics of abandonment. Others have done this, and they do it well. The Gaslight Anthem has written ballads, and they have written them well. This song, though, represents an unparalleled foray into something unknown—something of sophisticated rawness—as a harmonica takes center stage. And again, when in one of the last repetitions of the chorus, Fallon’s grumbles become gritty growls. It’s visceral, it’s drowning in nostalgia and resignation, a sepia-tinged cry. 

“Hold You Up” makes more use of the hissing, hanging harmonica and a hollow echo of a voice, perhaps appropriate as Fallon is even more distant from his desires here, yet holding her—and all of his sorrows—up, adding them to the things he carries. As if by osmosis, his story is yours, too, within seconds, all specific details erased by the base sigh, “Where have you been all my life?” here more anxious than content, more troubled than victorious.

Intervening these two tracks is an unexpected cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” The original, a high-pitched, airy croon from a group known for its tunes of folksy-sweet adventures both metaphorically in love and literally through the woods, is a Bon Iver staple. The Gaslight Anthem cut is rife with grit, with gut and flirts with the off-key, heartbreaking in its hesitancy—or perhaps inability—to hold a constant note as though a voice has been desperately directionless for too long to remember clarity, a throat tight from crying, a mouth tense with frustrating sorrow. The cover is wildly successful in that it reveals an ugliness deep within the composition, and Fallon and company shed their reliance on aggressive instrumentation to allow those complexities airtime. 

Hold You Up is a real tease of a release—four tracks of tantalizing promise for what’s to come, as if the content isn’t riddled with enough high-quality melancholy and despair in and of itself. Like a 23 year-old who realizes what he could amount to, and that he finally has the drive to get there, The Gaslight Anthem are on to something. Get on it with them.

*This review was composed by Emily Coch and edited by Erik van Rheenen

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