It would be stupid to try and tell you that the music you’re listening to is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. The songs on the Gaslight Anthem’s latest album are three or four minutes long, most of them, and they’re played on loud electric guitars, and there are drums, and to be honest, if you haven’t heard anything like this before, then you’re probably listening to the wrong band anyway. What’s great about the Gaslight Anthem is that there’s an assumption you’ll have heard something like this before – on the first Clash album, or on Born To Run, or the first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, or maybe on a Little Richard record. That’s what hooked me in. I’ve been listening to rock’n’roll for forty years, and so maybe I’m too old to be writing this stuff, but on the other hand, maybe I know what I’m talking about, too: believe me, I know a lot of stuff sounds tired and derivative, and makes you feel as though rock music is exhausted. It’s hard to find new ways to tell stories and write songs; even clothes made out of meat won’t do you much good if your music is 1980’s dance-pop.
So you have two choices. The first is this: you do something nobody’s ever done before. You play the nose-flute underwater, put it through a computer backwards, and get a black Japanese guy to rap over the top. Or you write a novel using only consonants. Or you make a movie which nobody can see. And that’s all cool, but nobody will want to read your second novel written using only consonants, so then you’ll have to write one using only vowels. And the second is this: you think, write, play and sing as though you have a right to stand at the head of a long line of cool people -you recognise that the Clash and Little Richard got here first, but they’re not around any more, so you’re going to carry on the tradition, and you’re going to do it in your own voice, and with as much conviction and authenticity and truth as you can muster. And if you can pull that off, you’ll be amazed at how fresh you can sound.
And the Gaslight Anthem sound fresh. Anyone who has ever been frustrated by anything – a girl, a boy, a job, a self (especially that) – can listen to this music and feel understood and energised. (And if I feel energised, Lord knows what they’re going to do to you.) And I’m beginning to suspect that they, like, read books, too. ‘Great Expectations’ – now there’s a great title for a song. And here, ‘Howl’ – there’s another one. Rockers who read. Songwriters who are not scared to go head-to-head with everyone else in rock’s great tradition. The Gaslight Anthem are my kind of people.
NICK HORNBY, APRIL 2012
From the liner notes for The Gaslight Anthem‘s Handwritten.