It’s easy to peg Elsie — the first record from Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon and his band’s guitar tech-turned collaborator Ian Perkins — as the latest in a long line of brooding, nocturnal studies on life and death and love and lust, soaked in whiskey, if not something stronger. But though the album is ruminative in a way that’s often manifested in the hazy dark between very late night and very early morning, Fallon, a devout Christian, doesn’t drink or smoke or do anything that might lead to that muddled ebb of bloodstream chemicals at 3 a.m. That may be just as well, because he — or his characters, at least — seems to have no trouble landing in trouble, physical or existential, without any liquid assistance. “Call up your boyfriend from out by the ocean/ While I get my last rites read by a thief,” purrs the opening track, the first of the album’s religious references that take on a new edge with the knowledge that Fallon himself is a believer. He seems to have made an effort to keep his faith discreet within Gaslight Anthem lyrics, and even here religious references are treated with the same literary remove as the thieves and sad women and wayward gadabouts his narratives favor: His contemplations of God and heaven and hell sit easily alongside ponderings on failed relationships and shadowy figures in dark bars, imbuing the album with a quiet, earnest intensity. It’s surprising and unfortunate, then, that the record’s one major misstep is rooted in an awkward collusion of faith and lust: “If you should go there before I do, God’s gonna trouble the water/ I got a crush on you,” proclaims the jaunty bridge on the brash, sweeping “Crush,” which sits uncomfortably amidst 11 otherwise focused, slow-burning, battered-soul beauties.
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