If there is still such a thing as underground music, this shrewd, calculated attempt to straddle the fence between accessibility and credibility seals all exits to the surface. Thanks to The Hold Steady, a decent band, anybody that mimics Bruce Springsteen is now considered earnest and poetic by music critics. Those who can’t see through Brian Fallon’s cellophane modesty are decrepit worshippers of dead ideals.
The facts seem to support the notion that The Gaslight Anthem has, in fact, worked its way up from humble blah blah blah blah, but the way Fallon delivers his clichéd, bleary-eyed romantic bullshit, I’d swear he’s the Vanilla Ice of rock and roll. I guess now that The Ramones are all dead (yes, yes, except the drummers) you really can get away with calling anything punk. I don’t really care if Fallon lived every one of the bubblegum nuggets on American Slang (can you think of a more contrived album title?); he writes the corniest fucking lyrics and sings them with such phony grit I imagine he smokes a Newport in between each take to hide the inner John Rzeznik that’s fighting to get out.
The whole package feels like an attempt to create the musical equivalent of 90210, only way, way cheesier. “You told me fortunes in American slang” might be the most horrible, cloying lyric I have ever heard. The guitar riff of this title track screams Party Of Five. Come to think of it, every riff on the album could easily launch a new teen drama. Fallon has studied his Bruce well, copping the requisite town-specific references like “The Diamond Church Street Choir” (aka “Jessie’s Girl”) and “The Queen Of Lower Chelsea” (aka every emo song ever), and being sure to use words like “factories” and “orphans”, and singing almost every song in the second person to a blunt female archetype (“You found the bandages inside the pen/And the stitches on the radio”, clearly his favorite line from “Boxer”, makes me want to vomit.) and calling her bay-beh in his most guttural pubescent grunt.
But the best worst part of the album is the final track, “We Did It When We Were Young”, wherein each successive line Fallon rolls out in his most cringe-inducing, off-key bleat is even more cliché than the title. Okay, I guess I hate the record more for what it actually is than I thought. It’s everybody else’s fault that it has been so successful, but the suckiness is pure Gaslight Anthem.