“So you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore”
Bruce Springsteen “Thunder Road” 1975
“When the gravity hangs on all the selling points you had, you should have stayed and been the Queen of Lower Chelsea”
Brian Fallon “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” 2010
“Talk about a dream - try to make it real. You wake up in the night with a fear so real. Spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come. Well, don't waste your time waiting”
Bruce Springsteen “Badlands” 1978
“And it feels like all you’d have to do is step outside, stop pacing around and waiting for some moment that might never arrive”
Brian Fallon “Stay Lucky” 2010
Talk about a kick in the ass. I first listened to American Slang the same week that I heard the very dense High Violet and the very mediocre Heaven is Whenever and it seemed like a revelation at the time. Not since Tom Wait’s Bone Machine has an album adressed age with such honesty and clarity. American Slang is about coming to terms with adulthood. The protagonist of “Queen of Lower Chelsea” that is “working full time and spending all of your nights, never dancing like you used to” to the 25 year old of “Stay Lucky” that is “never going to find it, like when you were young and everybody used to call you lucky” all struggle with the realization that they are “older now - and we did it when we were young”.
For all the weight that the lyrics carry the performances sound remarkably exuberant and youthful. Brian Fallon has an incredible amount of charisma and puts down some incredible vocals on this, particularly in the album closing “We did it when we were young”. Like the Shout Out Louds there is nothing groundbreaking going on here musically. Aside from the Springsteen references there are touches of Social Distortion, The Clash, The Jam and The Replacements (The lyrics of “Orphans” read like a remake of “Bastards of Young”, certainly not a bad song to use as a framework), as if that’s a bad thing. Rock is inherently derivative and while the line between pastiche and rip-off is indeed quite thin, a great song or album can transcend its influences and become greater than the sum of its parts. American Slang certainly achieves this.
Fittingly enough we saw The Gaslight Anthem on my wife’s 30th birthday and I can honestly say it was the best non-Springsteen show I have ever seen. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.