This album came out back in June, but since I didn't have this blog back then and there's nothing I want to review this week, I thought I'd review it now.
I didn't care much for American Slang the first time I heard it. I thought it was alright, but it didn't really grab me initially. It took a couple listenings for me to get it. The same happened with the preceding album, The Gaslight Anthem's SideOneDummy debut The '59 Sound. But I had loved their first album, Sink Or Swim, so much that I gave it a few more listens, and now I consider it to be a highly superior album. So when American Slang didn't hit me on the first listen, I gave it the same chance I gave '59.
To me, '59 had a vibe to it, sort of a theme. Most of the album seems to be a nostalgic view of youth with songs like the title track, "Old White Lincoln" and "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" calling up images of high school and being in your early 20's. Even the iTunes bonus track, a cover of Robert Bradley's "Once Upon A Time," fits the theme.
Slang continues that theme, but twists it a bit. The first half of the album continues the nostalgic view of youth. Songs like the title track or "The Diamond Church Street Choir" feel like they would have fit right at home on '59. After that, though, the nostalgia starts to take on a darker vibe. Rather than celebrating the life lived, the album has a more "those were the good days," bitter vibe. This is most specifically seen on "Old Haunts," with frontman Brian Fallon pleading "don't sing me your songs about the good times, those days are gone and you should just let them go," then declaring, "God help the man that says 'if you'd have know me when,' old haunts are for forgotten ghosts." That last bit really stands out to me, as it stands in direct conflict with one of Fallon's earlier songs. "The Navesink Bank" from Sink Or Swim finds the singer saying exactly that, "Ah Maria, if you woulda known me when..." The lesson I take from it is that it's ok to look fondly on your past, as long as you remember that it's the past.
After one last burst of nostalgia in the form of "The Spirit Of Jazz," the album, and the bitter nostalgia, close out with "We Did It When We Were Young." The most melancholy song I've heard from TGA, "Young" is written to a woman from Fallon's past, a sort of "we had a good time, but now it's over and I'm with someone else" kinda love letter. Fallon declares that he "cannot hold a candle for every pretty girl" before closing out the album by saying "I am older now, and we did it when we were young." The iTunes version of the album comes with a bonus track, "She Loves You." The song is well written and well performed, and I love getting more music for my money, but this is one instance where I regret the presence of a bonus track. "We Did It When We Were Young" is just such a perfect closing track that its a shame for another track to start playing. It's like watching a movie that keeps going after the point where it should have ended.
Musically, the album builds on the modern punk meets classic rock and soul that TGA have been perfecting, but with more emphasis on the modern side. While I think '59 is a better album overall, Slang has its moments. Lots of great guitar work and Fallon continues his rough, honest delivery of the lyrics. The album has a few questionable moments though, most notably the opening of "Boxer," which is an otherwise good song.
If you've never heard TGA, this isn't the album I would recommend starting with. I would say start with The '59 Sound, but follow that up with American Slang.
Favorite tracks: "The Diamond Church Street Choir," "Boxer," "Old Haunts," "We Did It When We Were Young"