The Gaslight Anthem have been compared to Bruce Springsteen so many times that it almost seemed an inevitability when the Boss hopped onstage with the New Jersey quartet at England’s Glastonbury Festival in 2009. Their 2010 album, American Slang, was essentially Born to Run remade by four snot-nosed punks.
But when talking about the group’s latest album, Handwritten, frontman Brian Fallon singles out a different guitar hero as his latest lodestar. “For me right now it’s all about Keith Richards,” he says of the Rolling Stones legend. “The way he plays—not quite lead and not quite rhythm—that’s a big part of this record.” He’s not kidding. Throughout this powerful 11-track disc, Fallon and guitarist Alex Rosamilia deliver their intertwined riffs with a rootsy swagger that recalls classic Keef. It’s the band’s most polished effort yet, but it also feels newly relaxed and unhurried.The Gaslight Anthem traveled to Nashville to record Handwritten, their major-label debut, with producer Brendan O’Brien, well known from his work with Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and, not coincidentally, Springsteen. “He shows you that you don’t just have to use four chords,” Fallon says of O’Brien. “You can change things up and experiment.” (The frontman wrote one cut, “Here Comes My Man,” on a 12-string guitar, an instrument he’d never before put his hands on.)Rosamilia adds that O’Brien taught him about restraint—“to play a little more sparsely than I might have wanted to.” The hook-infested result may well move the Gaslights into the hard-rock mainstream. Even if it doesn’t, Fallon already considers it a success. “This is the album we’ve always been aiming to make,” he says. “We just didn’t have the skills to do it till now.”