Saturday, October 06, 2012

"Handwritten" - Just the basics, baby

My first year at Berkeley, one of the guys on my dorm floor was big fan of bands like Rush, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer - that ilk.  With the exception of Rush (sorry, fans - for me they're the musical equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard), I could enjoy that genre, but only in small doses.

I remember Brian laughing hysterically one day at lunch, and when asked what so funny, he pointed to the paper he was reading - specifically, an article about Bob Seger, who was coming to town in a couple of days - and said "get this - he calls Seger 'meat and potatoes rock and roll!'"  The rest of us just kind of looked at each other, and someone - I think it was me - said, "Uh, Brian - I don't think that was meant as an insult."

Nick Hornby's liner notes for "Handwritten," the new album by The Gaslight Anthem, begin with this:

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.

And that really says it all.  This is basic, stripped down rock 'n roll, an album 41 minutes long, leading off with what in the old days would have been called "the obvious single," and closing out with the record's lone ballad.  All in all, a total throwback to the days when you'd hear a band like this about every third song on the radio.

And you know what?  It's great.  It's got more energy than any record I've listened to this year, it's got hooks, and yes - it's got those loud guitars and drums that Hornby talks about.  It's a sound that sounds as good today as it did in any decade since rock and roll first hit the airwaves.  Is it groundbreaking?  Is it historic?  Is it one of the best albums ever made?  No.  But it sets a goal, and achieves it without breaking a sweat.  I have no idea how well it's selling, but I hope it's a big hit - there's always room for an album like this.

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