One of singer and songwriter Brian Fallon's most frequent lyrical themes concern leaving things behind and looking back at them with a melancholic nostalgia. The American Slang track "Old Haunts" has similar subject matter. Clash magazine asked Fallon where this comes from? He replied: "I'm shocked at how fast how your younger ages go away from you. I'm not really old at all, I'm pretty young, but your teens and your early twenties are just gone so fast. I don't know if everyone thinks this, but I'm just like... where did all that time go? That time for me was so hard, I was really struggling. I got out of school when I was 18 and was constantly working and constantly trying to make this band work and never had any money, sleeping on floors and stuff. I feel like in a little bit of a way that I missed out on the times where your supposed to go out with your friends and be care free. I didn't get that part of life. Never in my life was it just care free, I always had a job even when I was a little kid."
Handwritten's title reflects how the album was conceived and crafted. "I really did write the lyrics in a notebook; they were all literally written by hand," Fallon explained to Jam! Music. "Around the time I started writing these songs, a friend of mine gave me a letter and a poem he wrote. And that just sparked me; what if a record was a letter sent straight to the listener? It hit me that it was the most heartfelt thing I could do."
The Handwritten album finds The Gaslight Anthem seeking to ask the same questions that fans may be asking themselves. "When you pose a question that someone else has been thinking about for a while, sometimes the most comforting thing in the world is to know that someone else doesn't have the answer either," Fallon told Billboard magazine. "That's what we were doing on this record."
"The Night Chicago Died" was written and recorded by the British group Paper Lace. They talk about Al Capone in the song, but got a lot of details wrong - understandable since they wrote it based on gangster movies.