The Judges Discuss: The Gaslight Anthem, “American Slang”

Part Six of the transcripts from the Uncut Music Award 2010 judging sessions. Today, we reach The Gaslight Anthem...

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Part Six of the transcripts from the Uncut Music Award 2010 judging sessions. Today, we reach The Gaslight Anthem…

Allan Jones: I think before Neil Young put out Le Noise, this was the album I’d been playing most this year. When we first heard them at Uncut there was a feeling that their influences were just too blatant to be taken seriously, but I really liked the last album and I like this one even more. It’s a very exciting rock record, I think the songs are really great, they’re very concise – I think the longest track is about four-and-a-half minutes. It’s the sort of record you can put on any time anywhere and it’ll make you feel good. Just one of my favourite records this year. Whether that merits it being on this list, or ending up anywhere near the top I don’t know. Am I going mad?

Mark Cooper: I think they’re a great old-school New Jersey band, even though they themselves are quite young. There’s a great American highway surge in their records, and very few people make records that direct anymore, they have a Bruce-ness, a Born To Run-ness, if you will. But much in the way that The Coral embrace the ’60s, The Gaslight Anthem embrace the American highway in a style that purports to be contemporary but I’m not so sure that it is. I’m not sure if it’s just a highway of the imagination. Clearly, their childhood was a childhood growing up on Bruce, but for me that ultimately holds them back. I love all the reference points, I think like The Coral they truly believe in what they’re doing and are sincere in their vocabularly, although in a way it’s someone else’s vocabulary. And, ultimately, I don’t think that’s enough.

Tony Wadsworth: Yeah, I’m with Mark on that. I would say that there are elements of Van Morrison and Mink DeVille in there as well, but there’s a couple of tracks on this that sound that they were specifically written to be hits and I do find that uncomfortable. I’d like to think of them as a genuine hard-working New Jersey band, but the title track in particular sounds to me like a contrived shot at gettting a hit single, and was written only for that purpose. It’s actually an OK song, but it just didn’t ring as true as it might have done. So, yeah, basically not one of my favourites on this list.

Phil Manzanera: I always get the impression that there’s hundreds of bands like this in America, but maybe there’s not. I worry that they’ve tied their colours to the Springsteen mast too tightly, because the main difference is that Bruce has The E Street Band. There’s a lot more context to what Springsteen does and it’s much more musically interesting. Maybe some of these tunes are a bit more commercial than Springsteen’s, but they’ve got to come up with that X factor Bruce brings to his music. There are any number of American bands heading towards stadiums with good drummers and good guitarists, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing anything special.

Danny Kelly: Allan, you’re not going mad, it’s actually a great rock record. People are living in a world where their influences are crushing them. That could have gone one of two ways, and I would have had no problem with this band, on their third album, saying ‘Fuck the lot of you, we’re going to remake Born To Run’. Instead, what they did was make the not-Born To Run. They have compacted themselves. There is a solidity where leaves, over time, become coal which then becomes diamonds, and that’s what’s happened on this LP. It’s 34 minutes long, they’ve not allowed themselves any solos, they’ve not allowed themselves any arrangements, except for the strings in the last song [“We Did It When We Were Young”], and I think in that horrible attempt to escape from their straitjacket they’ve actually made a really brilliant record. And, of course, that’s going to drive people mad, because it’s even more like Springsteen in its attempts to try not to be.

I suppose the question to ask here is what the fuck does anyone expect them to do? This is where they’ve arrived, musically, and I would expect people to dislike this record for the very reasons you and I like it, Allan. It made me wish I was 17 again and had never heard Born To Run. But I also like the fact that one different track is right at the end, as if to say ‘we could do something different if we wanted to…’. Maybe they should have spread it out over a double album, done some of the songs as seven-minute things and let them breathe. There’s no reason to think that this is the best album on this list, but I really loved it.

Hayden Thorpe: I found it really boring. I really struggled with it, to be honest. I know their sound guy really well, and I know that the band themselves are happy to be Bruce’s godson band, as it were, but I found the production really cynical, too radio-friendly, like they’re trying to hard to have a hit. I think Phil’s right, in that there’s probably at least another hundred bands on the circuit doing the same thing. I think to our anglicised ears, and I’m guilty of this myself, we’re a bit envious of it, for its perpetuation of Bruce Springsteen’s myths about New Jersey. That’s what I think we’re buying in to, or at least it’s what I’m buying in to, but I’m a lot younger than every one here. Sorry! But I just think that if you’ve already heard Born To Run and you love it, then why would you ever need this record? It doesn’t pack even half of the punch that Bruce does.

Danny: I don’t agree with you about the production, I think it’s totally uncynical. If they were being cynical they would have let it breathe. Whether they’re playing as well as The E Street Band – and I suspect you’re right, Phil, that they’re not – but I love that all that sound is crushed into these tiny, tiny spaces. There’s probably much too much going on in places, but that’s OK in my book.

Tony: I think they’re trying to do Darkness On The Edge Of Town, actually.

Mark: But I feel they’re not trying to do Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town, they’re not challenging themselves in that way at all, although there is maybe an agenda that they don’t quite realise themselves. Yet, I feel that the Beach House and Coral records sound more innocent. They all have those retro influences, but this retro world is also the way of radio in America, and I think The Gaslight Anthem are more a part of that than they would ever care to admit.


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