Memories are easily stirred by music; a lyric that speaks to your own experience or a melody triggering an emotion linked to past events.
We’ve all been snatched back in time by hearing a song that saturated the air of our teenage years again. The stereo’s shuffle button erratically throwing out new songs and deep memories with impunity.
This connection is strong and unpredictable. A cassette version of Blur’s Parklife bought on a ferry back to Britain means any song from that album is tinged with a strange melancholy. The end of a summer away and returning to the classroom routine, the leash of homework and longer nights only short days away. Having one or two nights of freedom left, but too paralysed from the oncoming term to enjoy them.
Three years ago my girlfriend and I visited Stockholm in a cold February. While there we saw the Gaslight Anthem touring The ‘59 Sound album in a small club in Slussen. Ever since I’ve associated their songs with Sweden and Stockholm, even though the music is seeped with Americana.
It seemed appropriate then to make sure I had Gaslight Anthem’s new release Handwritten ready for this summer’s holiday to Stockholm and the swedish archipelago. For reasons unknown their 2010 American Slang passed me by; I’ve heard it and enjoyed it but somehow it lacked sparkle.
The new album has sing alongs and classic choruses that feel like you’ve known them all your life. The lyrics vividly describe journeys through personal highs and lows, tiny details making the images and feelings sharp, as if you’d been there yourself.
It felt right to be sat rocking on a boat, staring across from Kastellholm on a quiet Saturday morning, staring at the sleeping fairground of Gröna Lund and hearing the lines from Mae:
In my faded jeans and far away eyes, and salty carnival kiss,
That all my former lovers say,
Was once magnificent.
It was never written with this nordic capital in mind, but it fits perfectly. Maybe that’s the secret to Gaslight’s success; they can connect to the universal human experiences, so it doesn’t matter where you’re sitting.
If you buy Handwritten treat yourself to the deluxe version which contains Blue Dahlia, one of the best songs the Gaslight Anthem have ever written. Possibly they felt that it wasn’t a good fit for the album itself, if so it shows huge confidence in their editing in leaving it off.
Handwritten feels like it’s all sparkle, but I struggle to explain what is different from American Slang. Places influence music as much as music places, so perhaps it’s the Stockholm connection that makes Handwritten better for me.