Garden State rockers Gaslight Anthem grapple with expectations and carve out their niche on their third album.


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To hear Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon tell it, the New Jersey band’s latest release, American Slang (SideOneDummy Records, $14), was built out of equal parts fear, defiance and ambition. After an impressive debut with 2007’s Sink or Swim and the critically acclaimed quantum leap of sophomore effort The ’59 Sound in 2008, the pressures — internal, external and even historical — ratchetted up dramatically for Gaslight’s third album.

“A band’s third record — that always carries its own set of expectations going in,” Fallon says. “You’re talking about your Born to Run, your London Calling, your Damn the Torpedoes — serious records. Those are the ones where people find out if a band is worth anything or if they were just a flash in the pan. We decided if we’re gonna stand or fall on this record, then it better be exactly the one that we wanted to make.”

Aided by British-born producer Ted Hutt, Gaslight — comprised of Fallon, guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz — delivers on the promise of its earlier work with a 10-song tour de force that packs plenty of heart, wit and muscle.

Although songs like the back-alley soul gem “The Diamond Church Street Choir” and the Far East–flavored “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” nod to seminal touchstones like the E Street Band, the Clash and the Pretenders, the balance of the record finds the group carving out its own spot in the rock ’n’ roll firmament. “The first couple records were more about our influences and trumpeting a sense of tradition, of being a part of a continuing thing that’s bigger than us,” Fallon says. “But with this one, we had to stake our own claim. That pressure doesn’t knock at your door lightly. You literally have to face it like a phobia and wrestle with it, and say yeah, these doubts are true; we may fail, but we still have to go through this.”

Despite some new sonic and stylistic touches, American Slang still relies heavily on Gaslight’s hardscrabble East Coast attitude and aphorisms. “There are certain places that if you’re from, you can’t escape that part of yourself,” Fallon says with a laugh. “And New Jersey is definitely one of them.”

Fallon and the others first came together amid the Jersey hard-core scene in 2005, forming after stints in various other bands, both short-lived and long-struggling. With Gaslight, however, the chemistry was there immediately. “With this group, there was never any compromise,” Fallon says. “We all decided what we were going to do early on, and it was going to be about a bigger, broader spectrum than what you’d typically find in a punk-rock group.”

In his own way, home-state hero Bruce Springsteen served as a guiding light for the group. Over the past few years, the Boss has joined Gaslight on stage, invited them to Europe as an opening act and given Fallon his personal seal of approval.

“It was like when Bob Dylan set out to make records; he said ‘I’m going to be Woody Guthrie.’ He started dressing like him, looking like him and sounding like him. Then he met Woody Guthrie and got his blessing and everything changed. He realized he’d been given permission to be Bob Dylan,” Fallon says. “That’s what happened when we met Bruce. I was like, ‘OK, we have your respect and you’ve validated that we’re doing something right.’ So it gave us the reassurance to carry on. Now, it’s up to us to add our own chapter to the story.”