Sound — 10
Full credit to producer Brendan O'Brien and the crew behind the mixing desk here, because the sound is near perfect. More so than on any previous Gaslight efforts, each instrument is perfectly balanced and allowed to shine, making for a stunning sound that marks the band's best work to date. From the opening howl of "45", you know you are in for a raw, energetic and passionate experience; this makes the anthemic "45" an ideal choice for album opener and lead single. The album's title track follows this with catchy "woah"s, gorgeous twinkles of piano and one of Alex Rosamilia's most soaring lead guitar lines to date. Rosamilia is so often the saviour of The Gaslight Anthem, preventing often repetitive chord sequences from becoming stale, and this album showcases his talents brilliantly. The frequently subdued Alex Levine also has his moments to shine on the bass, notably in track 3 "Here Comes My Man". More great bass work is on show in the more aggressive "Mulholland Drive", before the huge sound of "Keepsake", in which harmonica and lead guitar duel over bass-heavy backing. "Too Much Blood" features a grungey headbanger of a riff, which perfectly compliments Brain Fallon's angry soul vocals, though this is contrasted with a softer, more melodic chorus, to great effect; this is another album highlight. "Howl" is yet another, a song to instantly fall in love with. Lasting 2 minutes, it is joyous, upbeat and memorable. "Biloxi Parish", however, is the killer track in my opinion. One of the best, if not the best this band has written, this tried and tested crowd pleaser sees each band member on top form; great riff work, superb bass, perfect drums and an outstanding solo, all without mentioning Fallon's amazing vocals. This is one of the best songs I have heard in a long, long time. All this makes for the follow-up, "Desire" to be quite underwhelming, though its catchy nature would make this a key song on most other albums. The penultimate effort, "Mae" is a sweet, Horrible Crowes-esque ballad, once again laden with excellent bass work perfectly-toned guitars, and some of Benny Horowitz's best drumming yet. "National Anthem", the closer is impeccable; a truly fantastic acoustic piece that takes on new musical territory for the band with the introduction of a strings section. Due to the number of times adjectives such as "perfect" have cropped up here, it is difficult not to give this album's sound a 10. Very few bands sound like this any more, which is perhaps why "Handwritten" is so magical; it is progressive but it never forgets where it is coming from; refined but raw, and utterly brilliant.
Lyrics — 9
Anyone who has given The Gaslight Anthem a fair listen will know the story with Brian Fallon's lyrics. Radios, classic cars, tatoos... Strangely though, it never gets tiresome. "45", the ultimate moving-on song, has lyrics everyone can relate to, though it does not stray from Fallon's familiar lexis, "turn the record over... I'll see you on the flip side". "Handwritten", as you'd expect from the title, features more Fallon mastery, "with this pen, I thee wed from my heart to your distress". Fallon also muses on songwriting itself in the contemplative "Too Much Blood", a metaphor that accurately illustrates the passion this writer infuses into each song. This album is frequented by an abundance of woahs, heys and in the case of "Here Comes My Man", sha-la-las, making each song massively memorable. Rosamilia and Levine's vocals are featured far more heavily here than on previous albums, to great effect. Once again, this feels like a whole band on top of their game. But despite the marvelous backing vocals, it remains Brian Fallon who steals the show; this album demonstrates a whole new dimension to his voice. More than ever before, it soars, it snarls, it downright explodes. Brian Fallon's voice is a crucial aspect of The Gaslight Anthem's unique, impassioned sound and makes for the perfect match to his equally heartfelt lyrics.
Overall Impression — 10
This is very much one of the best albums I have ever heard. Each member of the band, and even the production team, seem to be on top form throughout. Since 2008, the question for this band has been "will they ever write something better than 'The '59 Sound'?". Where "American Slang" failed, "Handwritten" succeeds. This is a classic, and sets a new standard not only for the band, but for rock music altogether. Having said that, it is difficult to imagine any other band than The Gaslight Anthem topping this. It is a superlative work, and one that surely will propel them from the outskirts into the realms of rock stardom. This is not said with a heavy heart though, as you get the impression that no matter how far this band is taken, they will never forget where they're from.