“Have you seen my heart?” asks Brian Fallon on the Gaslight Anthem’s fourth album. “Have you seen how it bleeds?” Have we ever. There is no shortage of earnest anthemic rock in the 21st century, but no one wears their bleeding hearts on their sleeves quite like Fallon and his mates. Gaslight aren’t regal like Coldplay or Arcade Fire; on their major-label debut they remain proudly provincial New Jersey punks, who sing about deep feelings with a sincerity that could make Bono blush.
Handwritten is Gaslight’s biggest-sounding, most straightforward album. The hints of Motown and dub are gone, but superproducer Brendan O’Brien supplies bite and gleam. With his newsboy caps, sleeves of tattoos and wiry intensity, Fallon can come off like a barista getting high on his own supply. But he’s a ferocious vocalist, and his way with a hook and Springsteen-schooled sense of drama make these songs more cathartic than cornball. Listen to “Handwritten,” where he growls over lashing guitars, “What’s your favorite song?/That’s mine, I’ve been crying to it since I was young.” Then there’s “Too Much Blood,” the power-ballad centerpiece. “Are you scared this sounds familiar?” he cries. Fallon isn’t scared of anything: not of sounding familiar, not of coming off heavy-handed. That fearlessness serves him well.
Listen to “45”: