The Gaslight Anthem chase down the runaway American dream

You'd think after months of endless Springsteen comparisons — on blogs, in magazines, on internet message boards — Brian Fallon would stay far, far away from the subject of Bruce. But the Gaslight Anthem frontman is more than eager to talk about one of his main music heroes. In fact, he's the one who brings it up.

"If someone wants to tell me I'm the next Bruce Springsteen, that's pretty awesome," he says. "I'll roll with that the rest of my career. I'd like to be the next Bruce Springsteen."

The New Jersey natives (of course they're from New Jersey) released their debut album, Sink or Swim, in 2007. But it wasn't until the following year's The '59 Sound that people started paying attention. Thanks to American Slang, one of 2010's best albums, even more people are listening. And they're noticing similarities between the Boss' classic-rock narratives and Fallon's own epic stories — both of which are delivered in super-sized chunks of anthemic glory.

It's not that the Gaslight Anthem sound exactly like the E Street Band or even compare in size (there are four guys in the Gaslight Anthem, and none of them plays saxophone or piano onstage — though American Slang features a little of both). Springsteen's band has its roots in '60s R&B; the Gaslight Anthem's stem from '70s punk. And they sure don't look like the E Street Band (for one thing, Fallon is covered in tattoos). But there's a big, stadium-ready drive to the Gaslight Anthem's music that's ready to share the road with Wendy, Mary, and the rest of Springsteen's tramps.

Plus, there are the direct lyrical references: "broken heroes," "wash these sins," "no surrender," and "Bobby Jean" all show up on The '59 Sound. One of the record's highlights, "High Lonesome," even lifts a whole line — "At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet" — from "I'm on Fire." There's more of the same on American Slang.

"We all grew up listening to Bruce — he was the biggest of the big," says Fallon, who appears onstage with Springsteen in the Boss' recent London Calling: Live in Hyde Park DVD during "No Surrender." "In the '70s, there were these big, long, drawn-out concept records — everything was just spacey and weird. Bruce streamlined it. He's the guy who didn't screw it up."

There are other checkpoints in the Gaslight Anthem's music — especially Pearl Jam (Fallon is a huge fan of both their integrity and bootlegs) and the Clash (Sink or Swim's "I'da Called You Woody, Joe" is a tribute to the late Joe Strummer). But Fallon also finds inspiration a little closer to home. American Slang's best song, "The Boxer," is all about a close friend, although its stirring chorus could very well sum up the singer and songwriter: "He took it all gracefully on the chin/Knowing that the beatings had to someday end/He found the bandages inside the pen/And the stitches on the radio."

It's all about finding redemption and salvation in music. Springsteen has explored the theme his entire career, going all the way back to his debut album. Fallon is now walking a similar path toward enlightenment. "I'm getting to the point better now," he says. "I'm able to focus more."

In a way, American Slang is a reaction to The '59 Sound's relative success (the album peaked at No. 70; American Slang reached No. 16). Fallon says he felt some pressure recording the follow-up; but more so, he felt an obligation to the music. "After we recorded the [new] songs, they sounded really thin," he says. "We figured out we had to layer them. It was almost like the songs demanded a bigness from us, rather than we demanded it from the songs."

And like his idol during the ultra-productive Darkness on the Edge of Town era (which yielded dozens of great Springsteen songs in addition to the ten that made the album), Fallon is writing more songs than he could possibly record these days. He says he has several already lined up for a new album or two. "I always wondered what something like 'Baba O'Riley' would sound like if the Clash had done something like that," he says. "If you can make a record that felt like that but streamlined even further down, what would that sound like? That's what I've been interested in. It can be pretty amazing."

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