I'm glad somebody else picked up on the Motown/soul vibes in American Slang. Those were readily apparent on The '59 Sound and S&Q too. And personally, I think that influence is overlooked in their music--particularly in Brian's vocals.
What's funny about being influenced by someone like Springsteen, though, is that I think the waters get muddied. From an auditory perspective, anyway. Lyrical drops are pretty cut-and-dry, but if you want to take influence on sound? It all depends on what the listener is familiar with as to what it gets compared to. And there's a contingent of Gaslight fans who are into Springsteen who feel compelled to drive that point home incessantly. I'm wondering if the same thing exists within the Hold Steady community. Those guys are definitely Springsteen fans, but that seems to be more of the way they write songs/the instrumentals rather than lyrical references from what I can glean.
Anyway. I definitely agree that I'd like to see them push forward with a wide range of influences instead of, y'know, going all dark and what-not. But I'm wondering if that's the reason why Brian said he was "going dark" while writing the record. Maybe as a way to combat outside influences creeping in and influencing their sound?
And the fact that I'm this amped about an artist to engage in a conversation like this...I'm just excited to see what comes next.
There's some really killer stuff going on with the American Slang
songs that isn't anywhere else in their catalog though. Yeah, the Motown influence was already there (they wrote a song called "Miles Davis and the Cool," for God's sake), but I think they really went all the way there with American Slang
, and it's kind of what makes that record special to me. Stuff like "Bring it On" could have been on the radio 50 years ago.
I'd agree that musical style is harder to trace than lyrical drops, so maybe it really is just my familiarity with Springsteen that makes the comparison so viable. But there are a lot of songs in their catalog that really have no Springsteen lyrical references and still have elements of his sound, at least to me. "The Backseat," "Here Comes My Man," "We Did it When We Were You," and "National Anthem" all come to mind, and those are some of my favorite songs from these guys. As for the Hold Steady, I think the comparison does get made, but it's not as frequent. Boys & Girls in America
is the only record of theirs that legitimately sounds like Springsteen. The rest of their stuff definitely has his influence--their character and narrative songs owe a lot to what Bruce was doing on The Wild, The Innocent
--but I don't think they've ever gotten as pigeonholed as Gaslight has. The Hold Steady have always maintained their bar-band personality. Gaslight have moved toward more grandiose themes and arena-sized melodies, and the Bruce comparison has stalked them along the way.
I can definitely understand Brian wanting to "go dark," but I still hope he remembers where he's coming from. He doesn't owe his fans anything, and I'd rather he follow his own artistic urges, but I hope he doesn't get confused about what those are just because a few dicks yelled "Brooooocccee!" at his concert.
In any case, Brian has certainly proven himself, and no matter where he goes from here, I will always listen and at least try very hard to appreciate the new directions. I don't think they're going to go from making some of my favorite albums of the past few years to making an album I don't like at all, but I do have a feeling that Handwritten
could be my favorite Gaslight album for awhile.