Anybody unsure about what might be in store for them with Handwritten — the fourth album from New Brunswick’s The Gaslight Anthem — must either be new to the band or in possession of an extremely poor sense of pattern recognition. Like the band’s previous records, Handwritten draws heavily on the iconography of all-American rock & roll, crafting reliably engrossing mini-narratives from its milieu of cars, girls & radios. For The Gaslight Anthem, life is a James Dean movie. The band first achieved widespread recognition with their 2008 release, The ’59 Sound, an album that wore its influences proudly emblazoned on its sleeve, with frontman Brian Fallon dropping phrases from Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seeger songs into his own compositions and at one point — with the lines “Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand / I always kinda sorta wished I looked like Elvis” — referencing Counting Crows referencing the King, constructing metatextual layers of Americana one on top of the other.

As my fellow LAmb contributor David Fisch pointed out on the LA Music Podcast, The Gaslight Anthem has always excelled in giving their albums perfect openers. Handwritten is no exception, launching out of the gate with “45”, a slice of classic Gaslight that utilizes cars and records as metaphors for leaving a damaging relationship behind. “Hey hey, turn the record over / Hey hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side / There you go, turn the key and engine over / Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.” You may have noticed the prominence of the “hey”s in those lyrics. Fallon gets plenty of mileage out of these, as he does out of the hearty “whoa-oh”s on “Handwritten” and “Desire” and even some “oh-sha-la-la”s on “Here Comes My Man.” And for that matter, “hey” comprises pretty much the entirety of “Howl”‘s chorus, not that the two-minute blast of heartland punk suffers at all for it.

Both The ’59 Sound and 2010’s American Slang shed a little of the punk frenzy that characterized the band’s 2007 debut, Sink or Swim. Handwritten sees a little of that heaviness creep back in, though Fallon and guitarist Alex Rosamilia now favor bluesy riffage over buzzsaw power chords on numbers like “Biloxi Parish” and “Too Much Blood.” The latter also boasts one of Fallon’s rawest vocal performances, whilst on the other end of the spectrum, “Mulholland Drive” sports one of his sugariest choruses, as well as a bit of classic FM radio guitar heroics courtesy of Rosamilia.

Handwritten’s production, courtesy of the legendary Brendan O’Brien — arguably best known for his work with Springsteen and Pearl Jam — lacks the reverb that saturated The ’59 Sound, resulting in a record that feels less like a self-conscious throwback, though “Mae”’s reference to “your Bette Davis eyes” proves that Fallon’s fixation with classic Americana hasn’t gone anywhere, and his description of “wait[ing] for kingdom come with the radio on” provides about as good a summation of The Gaslight Anthem’s modus operandi as you’re likely to find.

The album closes with “National Anthem,” which actually does stretch the band’s established sound somewhat with its finger-picked acoustic and subtle string accents. It may not be the most daring sonic evolution, but the song’s downbeat imagery — “We drink on the job then we go early” — paints a sombre portrait of the modern-day America Fallon sees from his tour bus. He can’t resist keeping the spark of hope alive, however: “Take it easy baby, it ain’t over yet.”

The Gaslight Anthem Tour Dates:

08/13 – Villa Manin – Passariano Ud, Italy
08/16 – Pukkelpop Festival – Kiewit, Belgium
08/18 – Area 4 – Lüdinghausen, Germany
08/19 – Highfield Festival – Leipzig, Germany
08/22 – Chiemsee Rocks – Übersee, Germany
08/24 – Leeds Festival – Leeds, United Kingdom
08/26 – Reading Festival – Reading, United Kingdom
09/11 – Agora Port Of Quebec – Quebec City, Canada
09/12 – Bell Centre – Montreal, Canada
09/13 – Ce Centre – Ottawa, Canada
09/15 – Riot Fest – Chicago, IL
09/16 – Eagles Ballroom – Milwaukee, WI
09/17 – Deltaplex Arena – Grand Rapids, MI
09/20 – Bayou Music Center – Houston, TX
09/21 – DeLuna Fest – Pensacola, FL
09/22 – Riot Fest South – Dallas, TX
09/24 – The Fillmore Auditorium – Denver, CO
09/25 – The Fillmore Auditorium – Denver, CO
09/28 – Tempe Beach Park – Tempe, AZ
09/29 – Honda Center – Anaheim, CA
10/01 – Hard Rock Cafe – Las Vegas, NV
10/02 – Grand Theater – Reno, NV
10/04 – Save On Foods Memorial Centre – Victoria, Canada
10/06 – Stampede Park BMO Centre – Calgary, Canada
10/07 – Edmonton EXPO Centre – Edmonton, Canada
10/15 – O2 Academy Brixton – London, United Kingdom
10/17 – O2 Academy Brixton – London, United Kingdom
10/18 – O2 Apollo – Manchester, United Kingdom
10/19 – O2 Academy Glasgow – Glasgow, United Kingdom
10/20 – O2 Academy Birmingham – Birmingham, United Kingdom
10/21 – Ancienne Belgique – Brussels, Belgium
10/23 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, Netherlands
10/25 – E-Werk – Cologne, Germany
10/27 – Jarhunderthalle – Frankfurt, Germany
10/28 – Zenith – Munich, Germany
10/29 – Gasometer – Vienna, Austria
10/31 – LKA Longhorn – Stuttgart, Germany
11/01 – Sporthalle – Hamburg, Germany
11/02 – Columbiahalle – Berlin, Germany
11/03 – Garage – Saarbrücken, Germany
11/04 – La Cigale – Paris, France
11/05 – Komplex – Zurich, Switzerland
11/06 – Alcatraz – Milan, Italy
11/08 – Sala Apolo – Barcelona, Spain
11/09 – Sala Cats – Madrid, Spain

More info on The Gaslight Anthem