Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten


“[Nostalgia] can be generally defined as a state of inarticulate contempt for the present and fear of the future, in concert with a yearning for order, constancy, safety, and community—qualities that were last enjoyed in childhood and are retroactively imagined as gracing the whole of the time before one's birth.” - Luc Sante, Low Life

That quote probably tells you what this review is gonna be about and usually I don't bother writing too much about stuff I'm not into and I know the shit that you hate don't make you special, but really the shit that you love don't make you special either, and that applies doubly so if you love the Gaslight Anthem.

Their popularity in the punk scene might be an anathema to some, considering they play some of the most watered down safe softer-than-softer-rock and cite Dire Straits, the most terrible asinine bullshit middle-aged sanitised band ever, as a direct influence, but that's only if you forget that large parts of the punk scene are insecure people in their 20s trying to escape from the fact that they were insecure people in their teens by clinging on to some maturity liferaft that will give them an excuse to smoothly slide out of liking (or at least exclusively liking) music that sounds like a pneumatic drill into liking music that sounds like a marshmallow mortgage and then make fun of people who dare to continue to find interest in the clang and harshness of bands working a noise vein from a position that they believe to be morally right, but in fact is just the pisswarm warmspot of small-c conservatism. These bands have always existed and always will. As Steve Albini said about The Replacements: The Replacements Stink is a great record and their first couple of years they were an energetic and exciting band. Once they started getting serious about it it turned to cute lovey-dovey shit for sorority girls and Tom Petty fans and I stopped paying attention.

Not everyone has the energy to keep listening to bands that sound like the Dead Kennedys or Crazy Spirit, but not everyone has the gumption to just quit the music that meant so much to them for their formative period, (or if not quit then just simultaneously openly embrace something that the music they loved is explicitly set-up in counter to) so they find a way out through a band that might've started off in the punk scene but moved outside of it. Usually there's still pushback against these bands for 'selling out' from people who don't want to move on which I know is a pretty dumb concept and you can make the art you want to make, in the context you feel comfortable with and if you feel comfortable making pop-rock or college-rock or whatever they're calling middle-of-the-road music with guitars these days, like The Replacements, the Lemonheads and Against Me all found themselves doing, then go for it, but it's equally shitty to claim that the people who liked the art you made before are idiots for not following exactly the same personal arc as you did away from it. Also, there has been little such backlash against Gaslight from this probably because they played extremely radio-friendly punk rock in the first place. I don't expect the backlash to start here, but unlike The Replacements who still managed to imbue their MTV hits with a certain fuck-you attitude and the powerful desires and conflicts of youth, Gaslight Anthem and Handwritten is just a turgid sadwank over a time when you didn't have to deal with bands that actually tore at the world. You can make the art you want to make, like I said, and Gaslight have always done that, however, if you make shit art, especially that which taps cynically into a horrible appropriative myth of conformity and have ever in any small way been associated with a scene that explicitly rejects such antiseptic blandishments, someone's gonna eventually call you on making a regurgitative turgid sadwank of an artistic statement. That said, let's look at the songs!

Starting off with 45, the song they released earlier to trick people into thinking that they were gonna make something else that sounded like Sink or Swim or Senor and the Queen. It's a pretty catchy song to get things started with. It’s got a fun surfy solo around two-minutes in. That’s one more facet of decades old irrelevant Americana checked off the list, I guess. It’s a wistful song about listening to records. Basically American Steel’s Old Croy Road if that song had it’s screaming heart ripped out and replaced with a undercooked po-faced gurn.

Then we move on to the title track. Which is a a wistful song about listening to records that romanticises another analogue communication form because goodness knows things were better in the past when everything was all sepia-toned and whatever. It’s got a gospelly hum in the background around three-minutes in. That’s one more facet of decades old irrelevant Americana checked off the list, I guess.

Next up is Here Comes My Man. Seger? I barely know ‘er! Oh wait, BOB Seger? Yes, I am intimately familiar with his life’s work. Just listen to this record if you don’t believe me! As for the title, yeah, we all know who Lou Reed is, Brian.

Moving on to Mulholland Drive. and, yeah, we all know who David Lynch is, Brian. I’m really really not opposed to reference as a technique in art and I and every writer I know uses it pretty much all the fucking time but Brian Fallon seems to deal solely in the most obvious things that anyone who thinks they’re plugged in to some mainstream oh-we’re-not-mainstream-we’re-rock-and-roll-rebels view of an American artistic narrative will pick-up on. You can be into that if you want but I find it unbearably boring and it’s always accompanied by the mephitic air of rockist self-regard as the anointed defenders of TRUE MUSIC and TRUE CULTURE, and fuck that. They may have called their last album American Slang, but they wouldn't be caught dead using any contemporary slang, preferring the static categorised vocabulary of the quickly-retreating past rather than the livewire mutability of fresh language.

He’s almost entirely unstransformative in his reference too, it’s just the warmth of recognising something familiar, which is the sort of thing people wrongly accuse stuff like Community of where that builds in meta-reference into character moments and twists the structures of these things we know into fresh excitement. This is just HEY AREN’T ALL THE THINGS EVERYONE SAYS ARE GREAT GREAT! It’s like a hip-hop song giving a shout out to 2pac or Biggie, or that terrible Glasvegas song where it bites the piano from Moonlight Sonata in lieu of attempting to construct something genuinely moving by itself. The Hold Steady is Community. Brian Fallon is like the Big Bang Theory for people who subscribe to Rolling Stone.

Also, in this track, the lyrics tell us that THE RADIO IS ON which is Brian Fallon’s shortcut to telling you we’re in that ineffable American never-was where everyone feels safe in the grasp of the tedious whiteboy monoculture and everything makes sense and the airwaves chug along to PROPER music not all that nasty hippity-hop and pop music or talk radio or any of the things that actually are on the radio a lot of the time. The Gaslight Anthem is the Newsroom for people who subscribe to Q Magazine.

Then we have Keepsake, which might be about murdering a woman and dumping her body in the river, but it’s like he wrote that song then fudged it because he wanted to be all nasty and honest like Johnny Cash or Nick Cave but didn’t want his mummy to think he’s not a nice boy. It’s like Nick Cave if you took away all the gothic menace and minatory artistry. Did they have harmonica on any of their older songs? If not that’s another PROPER HEARTLAND ROCK BAND checklist tick.

Too Much Blood opens with the line: “Are you scared this sounds familiar?” More like sadly resigned, Brian. This is a real plodder. He worries about putting too much blood on the page. He put too much shit in my ears. He also talks about bleeding a lot on this record, which is fine I guess, if you like trite metaphors that have been worn into the ground by around 8 trillion other people all convinced of THEIR ULTIMATE PAIN. I guess maybe the most interesting thing about the Gaslight Anthem is that there's the real authenticity/inauthenticity tension going on. He constantly talks about how much he's opening himself up, but then a shitload of the songs seem to be character songs, and the band itself is so blatant a shot at saying "WE ARE SERIOUS ROCK AND ROLL PEOPLE!" that it seems kinda goofy and adorable at times, like a five year old wearing their parents clothes. Sometimes you think they're deliberately aware of this and then you realise that it's not cynical, it's just Brian Fallon really is too bad of a lyricist to think of a line that isn't an obvious bleeding metaphor followed by a hey-look-at-this shout-out to a far superior writer. Which is almost sweet, in its own “Oh what an adorable guileless idiot” kind of way, or it would be if he wasn't a successful musician and like 32 or something.

Then comes Howl, and yeah, we all know who Allen Ginsberg is, Brian. “Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left” No, fuck off. We’ve been over this. That's even more pathetic though. There's no longer the implicit placing of the song in this past which obviously NEVER FUCKING EXISTED, but a pathetic pleading for a time when all your taste got dictated to you by people wiser and smarter than you, but still apparently listening to this music made you badass and original. This isn't the threat of coup d'etat in The Ramones' We Want the Airwaves, the frustration of Alkaline Trio's We've Had Enough, it's a craven cry for the abdication of choice and thought when it comes to taste. and, to paraphrase Drew Magary writing about that other indelible backwards looking romanticiser of dead and dying media, Aaron Sorkin: this is trite, messagey bullshit, and he's not even making a good point. No one in their right mind wants to go back to a world where you had to listen to a fucking commercially dictated music box to get all your culture in the world. I know olds gonna old, but do youngs gotta old too? Their staggering popularity reminds me of that South Park episode where all the kids get doped up and start listening to Phil Collins.

Biloxi Parish is more Seger, more plodding. Good job on at least picking an original location for this song. Oh wait, he just namechecked Asbury Park. That's another thing, I like a bunch of the touchstones that Gaslight touch. I love Springsteen and Waits and Dylan, because they all crafted themselves great fucking works that were obviously built with a fairly substantial amount of self-conscious nostalgic mythmaking, but they let their influences coalesce into a new fresh whole that was indelibly them. The Gaslight Anthem are second-artist syndrome, just painting the painting, aware only of the brushstrokes not the motivation behind them, seeing only the top of the iceberg (which I'll admit is a cliche enough sentence that it could be a Brian Fallon lyric "OH BABY I COULD SEE YOU WERE AN ICEBERG HONEY BABY! HIDDEN IN YOUR DEPTHS WAS A BLEEDING THUNDER ROAD MAYBE!"). There is no depth of inventiveness, there's no sharpness or freshness, just cliches and I guess if you relate to the world through the power of cliches then good for you, they do tend to have a certain truth to them. I'm sure David Foster Wallace would approve.

Desire is finally another fucking up-tempo one. I’m almost tempted to love this just for the relief it provides. Sadly the lyrics are basically some nice-guy-syndrome easycore bullshit. I probably would've let this one slide had it come near the top of the album though. As it is I was just like "Who cares?" All momentum has been abandoned in favour of this meek smooshy niceness. This one song won't bring it back. A.O.arse.

Not sure which Mae the song Mae is about but it's probably West, given the way this record goes. This song seriously uses the line ‘Bette Davis Eyes’. See what I mean about the most fucking obvious glib no-work shortcut artistically-bankrupt references ever? AND THE RADIO IS ON AGAIN! Incidentally, listening to Bette Davis Eyes 12 times in a row is a much more effective way of capturing that breathy wistful lost-Americana feeling that Bri-Bri and the boys are tilting at because Kim Carnes took an American icon and bent her myth into a whole new thing, drawing from it, adding to it, pulling bits of herself into it, not just being an empty cipher for whatever wikipedia page she clicked on after starting with "HOLLYWOOD". She didn't just go "This girl's really cool. LIKE BETTE DAVIS LOL YEAH!?".

It ends with a song quite fittingly entitled National Anthem, because that's what this record is. It's an attempt to construct something uncontroversial and unifying that instead just highlights the divisions of the past and present, divisions which were swept under the rug far more in the past and we, struggingly but happily, have to live with in the noisy present, unless of course you want to retreat to a safe past that never fucking existed. This one's got a Bob Dylan (or possibly Elvis, who, if you would like to have this review quickly and cleanly cite a far greater writer in order to attempt to cling Fallonesque and desperate onto the coat-tails of their power, skill and insight, was a hero to most but he never meant... oh you know the rest. Motherfuck him and John Wayne.) reference, and one he’s actually used before, on Sink Or Swim, from It's Alright, Ma, I'm Only Bleeding (a fantastic fucking song with more ideas in one verse than Gaslight have probably exhibited their entire career). Does Brian 'No Laff' Fallon own like 4 CDs that he got free with some glossy dad-mag like Uncut all entitled THE ONLY ROCK AND ROLL SONGS YOU'LL EVER NEED (which he took sadly literally) and sells everyone on the idea that he’s got a deep meaningful relationship with the entire fossil-rock canon by the fact that he’s pretty and does that soulful constipated thing with his voice every now and then? Again, you can position yourself in whatever socio-mythological artistic tradition you want (and a lot of the bands I love like Night Birds or The Wankys or Mean Jeans are clearly aiming to replicate fairly closely a particular musical style that someone invented in the past and sticking with it because they love it, progress be damned) if people are gonna shamelessly rip-off, imitate and also DUMB DOWN the achievements of the past, does it have to be these achievements with their vile cultural narrative of sad bastard radio-rock entitlement? If so, why? Answers in a handwritten letter on paper made of AMERICAN REDWOOD TREES AND SEALED WITH WAX IN AN ENVELOPE MADE OF BURLAP OR SOME SHIT. WHAT EVEN IS BURLAP!?

In conclusion: It was just so boring. You can be into inoffensive soft-rock if you want but I fucking resent the way this is constantly sold as REAL MUSIC and also as MATURE MUSIC that you should like more than silly punk rock if you’re smart and good or grown up or whatever bullshit ego trip they’re selling to you this week when this is just the snoozing arrested development of someone bummed out they never got to live in a time where all their cultural choices were made for them expressing that wetfart nostalgia through the medium of songs that sound like Bob Seger and lines ripped without context or thought from a New York Times special supplement list of THE 100 GREATEST THINGS SERIOUSLY TOTALLY REVOLUTIONARY THINGS WHITE PEOPLE DID EVER. The past fucking sucked. Gimme some noise. Burn this shit to the fucking ground.

That was fun.

17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. JBriggs is a tool. He thinks using the word, "fuck", makes him mature and cool. :)

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  3. Wow. Thomas Jefferson. You must be almost old enough to remember when people gave a shit about the radio.

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  4. Saying fuck words is way fucking cool and super fucking mature.

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  5. JBriggs just doesn't understand what music really is. Brian Fallon is a genius when it comes to music. He doesn't need to say fuck every other word to get his point across. He writes from the heart and can get a person to get a mental image in their head. Just because he isn't writing about fucking JBriggs mom every minute doesn't make him a bad musician. Sorry, JBriggs, but I would be surprised if you ever picked up a guitar and strummed an A chord. You don't know shit about music.

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  6. By the way, have you moved out of your mom's basement yet? You seem like a 40 year old man who still lives down there. Why are you so angry about life? Does all music need to be head banging metal?

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  7. I'm not sure why you're so violently insecure about the stuff you like that you feel the need to seek out every dissenting opinion and attack it, especially when this is a tiny blog and the thing you're defending is selling tens of thousands of copies by the week. Chill out, mate, you've won. Everything you say just makes it sound like you're scared that I'm right, which you are, and I am. You are a shook one.

    Anyway, let's take these points one by one.

    "JBriggs just doesn't understand what music really is."

    Oh wow. You are like so totally proving the entire point of that big rant about 'real music' right now. Are you totally serious with this one? I expend a bunch of words explaining that this record sucks because it encourages fucking idiots to buy into the fucking idiot notion that there is such a thing as 'what music really is' and feel better about themselves because of it and then you come back with me this weak bullshit entirely missing/proving my point. Jesus, dude. Jesus.

    "Brian Fallon is a genius when it comes to music."

    That's your subjective opinion. Personally I believe genius involves more than just mentioning things that everyone has heard of and pretending it makes you deep.

    "He doesn't need to say fuck every other word to get his point across."

    Brian Fallon is a better writer than James Joyce and Bruce Springsteen because Brian Fallon doesn't do any of those nasty swears. You're right he doesn't need to do that, because part of his point is that he's going for a middle-of-the-road inoffensive shittrail where George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words are forbidden, just as part of my point is that I believe the percussive cadence of gleefully calling people fucks is way more interesting and fun. You're wrong in that you think not swearing makes writing better, but you're gonna be wrong about a lot of things in your life, so get used to it.

    "He writes from the heart and can get a person to get a mental image in their head."

    I'm not convinced he does write from the heart, unless, he genuinely has fucked like 8 girls called Maria and all that quasi-mythic sounding crap he spouts, but you know I don't actually care about that because authenticity in art is some bullshit, and I think the most interesting thing about the band is that tension between how much is real and how much isn't. I don't know if he genuinely buys into the hype about him as some kinda pained genius or whether he's just writing from that perspective because it's an interesting one and one that fits in with the either tortured artist rock god crap that he's trying to fit into and recyle, either way it doesn't matter.

    Oh, and anyone can get a mental image in someone's head. Brian Fallon, consumed with lust, grins as he takes a large Bowie knife and thrusts it into the side of a tied up pig. The pig squeals in pain and terror and thrashes in panic but cannot escape from its bonds. Repeatedly stabbing the pig in the same spot, Brian Fallon marvels at the deep dark blood spilling forth from the wound. He then removes his white t-shirt, now stained red from the spurts of pigblood, unzips his blue jeans, and inserts his throbbing engorged penis into the wound he has created, fucking the fissure as the pig continues its terrible chaotic struggle, the life oozing out of it by the second as Brian Fallon thrusts back and forth in its side. After three minutes or so, Brian scream “Maria!” at the top of his lungs and ejaculates inside the pig's now-lifeless carcass, the semen spurts out of his cock as the blood did from the pig and these two life-juices intertwine and trickle out of the pig and onto the floor. The radio is on. The pig is named Rock and Roll.

    See that was a mental image. Not hard. Not like Brian Fallon's pigfucking dick, anyway. Also it was a metaphor! Doubly impressive.

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  8. "Just because he isn't writing about fucking JBriggs mom every minute doesn't make him a bad musician."

    See, this is where you really shine. If you stick to sophomoric attacks rather than some half-arsed inane ramble that never settles in the vicinity of anything you could call a coherent point then you'll do a lot better in life.

    “Sorry, JBriggs, but I would be surprised if you ever picked up a guitar and strummed an A chord. You don't know shit about music.”

    Another tried and true angle. If you don't do something then you don't get to criticise it. Unfortunately, this is obviously some bollocks. Because Nick Hornby, who hilariously wrote the liner notes for this atrocity, is not a musician either and he fucking praised it to the heavens. And presumably you agree with that. All criticism (criticism as in the sense of writing about the thing, not in the sense of just being negative), positive is equally valid and if you're gonna give credence to the positive (which seems to be fairly overwhelming) then you gotta let the negative exist too. And with so much positive criticism why are you so concerned with the negative? It's probably cos you're a shook one.

    "By the way, have you moved out of your mom's basement yet? You seem like a 40 year old man who still lives down there."

    Another sophomoric attack, good job, but I gotta call you on your form here, mare. You're still running with a mom's basement joke in 20-fucking-12? No wonder you love stuff which just recycles tired old lines from the past.

    "Why are you so angry about life?"

    You confuse amusement with anger. Why are you so angry about life that you can't handle the idea of people disagreeing with you. I know I'm banging on about this and it may seem a bit rich from someone who just wrote a few thousand words about something I hate but 1) I had a lot of fun doing it because writing is fun 2) I didn't come to your shitty Gaslight Anthem fanwank forum and try and impose this view on you. It's just sitting here on this tiny little spot on the internet, and if you find it and don't like it you can ignore it, something I sadly can't do with this shitstain album getting radio play and loads of press and being mentioned by everyone in the world who has confused being boring with being morally right, which is almost fucking everyone. I'm glad you're happy amongst a community of fellow Fallonistas, just enjoy your echo-chamber, cos when you step out everyone knows you a shook one.

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  9. "Does all music need to be head banging metal?"

    No, it doesn't, and in fact I say so several times in the review that you either a) didn't read beyond the point where you first realised it would not be a long sloppy blowjob of your lord and saviour B-Fallz or b) were too pigfuck stupid to understand. Though I do appreciate the irony of someone telling me they don't understand what music is and that I'm just too old to get it interpreting anything on this blog as an endorsement of metal and then using such a fucking old-man phrase like 'headbanging metal' derisively. I could practically hear you harrumph as I read it.

    However, all art exists in a myriad of intersecting social and cultural contexts, and you can choose to judge it so if you so wish or you can choose to just judge it on your personal impact on you and sometimes its personal impact on you is one that reminds you of the socio-cultural context in which that music exists. Personally, I believe the Gaslight Anthem are explicitly attempting to set themselves up as heirs to a certain cultural legacy. I believe they fail at that, because they do not have the lyrical chops to succeed. And I believe the cultural legacy they wish to become part of, and seem to wish to recreate, is a normative destructive one which should be mauled to death, something which the cultural narratives and legacies that I believe in and identify with attempt to do.

    Perhaps it is that you do not see music and art in such socio-cultural terms, or at least do not in this particular instance, and so have no problem listening to bands whose philosophies, in my view, represent a pathetic yearning for, as I said, a tedious whiteboy monoculture that should die gurgling like a pig penetrating by a picquerist pop star. But I can only write from my perspective of art, music, life and punk rock, and I did so. If you disagree, fair enough. If you just like music, or this music, for aesthetic reasons then fair enough, but I believe all aesthetics carry other connotations, connotations which in this case, I vehemently disliked.

    So what I'm saying is, why do you HATE Gaslight Anthem so much that you want to say they mean nothing beyond your own head? What did Brian Fallon ever do to you? The poor cunt.

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  10. With your awkward head shape, I would be surprised if you had been laid by a member of the opposite sex or a member of the same sex. I expect you got raped by some type of animal which is why you are so angry at life. You seem to have a strange obsession with pig fucking so I expect fucking pigs might be your specialty. Hey, I don't blame you, when you aren't able to have sex with a human being I guess you have to find some other living object to fool around with. I read everything you wrote and you really seem to have it out for Brian Fallon. I don't know what he did to you to make yourself so angry at the guy. Perhaps it is jealousy. You are just an internet blogger. Perhaps you want the life of the big time rock and roll star who gets to wear leather jackets and get girls to to swoon all over you. You are just wishing you were Brian Fallon and know you can't have that wish so you take it on the poor guy by writing hateful things about him and fucking pigs. Quite a weird life you live fella.....quite a weird life.

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  11. Always better a weird life than a boring one.

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  12. Jefferfon, you ftupid fon of a bitch.

    - Alexander Hamilton

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  13. Oh shit! It's getting presidential up in here!

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  14. It if to my great regret that I never rofe higher than United Ftatef Fecratary, but alfo my great pleafure to have given my life in fervice to thif fine country.

    - Lexxy Hams

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  15. I won't bother with what you said about people thinking of gaslight being a more "grown up" band than other punk, as I've never personally heard that, but I'd like to give a bit of opinion on some of the other stuff you touched on.

    It seemed like while some parts of this post were very well thought out and put across, others were just you trying to insult the band at any cost. Particularly when you talked about the subject matter of some songs.

    45 uses listening to records to create metaphors for getting over a break up. ("turn the record over", I know it's not terribly creative)

    Handwritten doesn't mention records at all, that's the music video. The song itself isn't about the medium, more about the act of listening to music when you're young and relating to it for the first time, and then how that translates into the songs you write yourself. (yeah you can tell this is a big deal for Brian...)

    As far as I can tell Keepsake is about Brian not knowing his father. I thought lyrically it was one of their more unique songs since it was about a personal topic about identity, rather than the usual making sure the radio is switched on, or getting divorced.

    I didn't much enjoy Too Much Blood either.

    I'll exhaust myself if I go through every song, but one last point is that where you see pining for the good ol' days, I see more pining for youth. (perhaps not much difference I suppose)

    I shan't comment on the cheap references you talked about because in all honesty I never caught them. Also, yes, the radio is always on. I thought it was more Springsteen referencing than romanticising analog technology but whatever.

    I should really just sum up here as this reply is taking far longer than I had wanted. I know that TGA have flaws. I know they're not punk. I know they're not original. I know they're not big or clever. This wasn't my favourite album by them at all, there wasn't really any punk influence in a good half of the songs which made them not really sound like the band at all to me. (I do still like it though)

    But yeah, despite all these apparent flaws, when I listen to this band I'm doing something comfortable. It's hooky, there are chord progressions I like, there are punk elements and I can relate to the songs. (even when he's basically just reveling in hero worship, I think everyone who makes/listens to music knows how that feels and sometimes it's all you want to do) Sometimes that's just enough, right?

    PS I really enjoy your blog, wish it got more updates! I have shown your article on pits to a lot of people who dismiss them as an inconvenience or as mindless violence.

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  16. That's a perfectly reasonable opinion and thanks for reading the blog.

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  17. This is the best review I've ever read of anything, ever. Thanks, it hit the nail right on the head over and over again!

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