The Gaslight Anthem's breakthrough debut, Sink or Swim, hit me hard, reigniting a spark that I hadn't felt from a new band in a long, long time. It caused a sense of genuine excitement towards both music and life to swell inside me and continues to stir up the same feelings after nearly a year in heavy rotation.
The Señor and the Queen EP has a tough job ahead of it. It seems as though anyone who is into the Gaslight Anthem is really into the Gaslight Anthem. I can't recall a band who has been as universally accepted amongst those who I have introduced them to as they have.
So where does the band go after an album like Sink or Swim? I can't speak for the band, but if I had to wager a guess at their intended direction it could (and will be) described in one word: "up." It's as though the New Brunswick, New Jersey band has taken a shot from a bird's eye view of who they are. They've created a reflection of what they've accomplished prior, capturing not only the spirit and sound of Sink or Swim but also putting that album's sound into context while building on it.
Musically, Señor and the Queen, while not a complete change in direction from Sink or Swim, takes the band in a new, bolder direction. It's not as hard-charging as some of the faster songs on Sink or Swim, like "We Came to Dance." It also lacks many of the elements that may have caused someone to initially compare the band to Hot Water Music. The fastest song is the title track, which opens the album and is most reminiscent to the band's previous work (with a tempo similar to "Wooderson," complete with a sing-along chorus).
The second track, "Where for Art Though Elvis," is the catchiest song on the EP. While it slows things down during the first verse, it features a wonderful "bah bah, bah bah badadada" buildup into a chorus where Fallon sings, "I've got nothing for you darlin' but a story to tell, 'bout the rain on the pavement and the sound as it fell." His lyrics are still the best part of the songs, but more on that to follow.
"Say I Won't (Recognize)" is the third track and the best demonstration of lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia's incredible talents. Much like the title track, it starts off very reminiscent of Sink or Swim material, but has the band venturing into new, more melodic territory all the while maintaining their core sound. The album ends with "White T-Shirts and Blue Jeans," which gives Fallon's lyrics the opportunity to take center stage.
Fallon's lyrics are by and large the best part of every Gaslight Anthem song. Of course, it helps that they are accompanied by great music, but his words read like a 1970s-era Springsteen transplanted to the present day mixed with tales of a road-tired touring band. His lyrics create romantic tales of characters so sincere in their emotions (especially love) that you'd think they were fictional if you weren't so sure he was speaking from the heart. Lines such as, "Show me your hands, I wanna see how you dance pretty baby by the light of the moon" and "We sing with our heroes 33 rounds per minute, we're never going home until the sun says we're finished. I'll love you forever if I ever love at all" invoke the innocence and sense of Americana that makes Fallon's lyrics feel like home. In the end, that's one of the best things about this band -- the comfort they provide.
If there is anything one might complain about in regards to the EP, it's that it doesn't provide as many as the uplifting and explosive choruses as Sink or Swim did. These songs aren't leftovers from previous efforts, though. Do I like the four best songs on Sink or Swim better than these four songs? On some days, absolutely, on others not at all. Like any other band, the Gaslight Anthem is going to see some complaining that "album x is so much better than album y," but that's unavoidable.
While I would have loved a full-length, I suppose it's a little soon for that. For now, Señor and the Queen should more than tide anyone over in addition to introducing the band to countless more fans.