Review Summary: The Gaslight Anthem have crafted some of the best stripped-down soulful rock music ever put to tape - Remember where you were when you first heard "The '59 Sound."
Boy, am I glad this album didn't come out about six years ago... That sounds like a strange statement to make, but back then, I was one of those kids who judged music purely on it's ability to carry a message; a giant "fuck
you" to somebody, anybody, as long as there was anger, rebelious intent and righteous indignation. Had I heard a line like "I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my first wife, everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you" back when I was fourteen, I'd mostly likely have turned my nose up and gone back to scrawling Pennywise logos on my textbooks. However, time and experience are cruel mistresses, and after six years of crushes, failed relationships, the mundane reality of working soul-crushing jobs, and the sad realisation that, having turned twenty, the fabled "best days of my life" are mostly behind me, I've come to appreciate the value of enjoying music as escapism. Sometimes all it takes is a few lines of particularly poignant storytelling lyrics, like those found in The '59 Sound
, to whisk me away into another world, one where I don't work in a fuck
ing petrol garage to lessen the crippling debts of a university education.
The world conjured up by The Gaslight Anthem
is one of living fast, dying young, grabbing hold of life with both hands not letting go. It's not hard to imagine vocalist Brian Fallon sitting on the hood of a classic convertible when he wrote these lyrics, listening to The Drifters
' "There Goes My Baby" while looking down at the twinkling skyline of a city he's contemplating leaving forever; his refreshingly honest tales of unrequited love, riding ferris wheels at county fairs, and driving through the night are rendered in vivid colour by the iconic 50s imagery and Fallon's gritty, soulful delivery, so much so that after just one listen, you start telling yourself you'd gladly bear the load of the remorse and regret that drip from his lyrics, if it meant being able to live the life that his words paint throughout.
However, such beautiful storytelling would be wasted were it not for the fact that, in The '59 Sound
, The Gaslight Anthem have crafted some of the best stripped-down soulful rock music ever put to tape - catchy basslines, driving drumbeats, twinkling guitar melodies over rumbling powerchords - aside from a few moments ("Film Noir" for example), there's little of the stompy punk that saw their debut Sink or Swim
gain comparisons to Against Me
, with the band preferring to stick to a more straight ahead Americana-infused brand of rock, peppered with the occasional country-ish or folksy flourish.
It's true to say that they maintain this style throughout the whole album, but the varied and inspired songwriting ensure that no two songs sound the same, with every number jammed full of memorable hooks. Hearing Fallon wail "Maybe I should call me an ambulance" over Alex Rosamilia's lithe guitar lines, a pounding beat from drummer Benny Horowitz and bassist Alex Levine, and soaring backing vocals courtesy of Hot Water Music
's Chris Wollard and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
' Dicky Barrett in "The Patient Ferris Wheel" is a moment that'll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end every time. In contrast, the subdued bluesy melancholia of "Here's Looking at You, Kid" and it's sad refrain of "Boys will be boys, and girls have those eyes that'll cut you to ribbons sometimes" is as heart-wrenching and emotional as it gets. It's virtually impossible to choose a favourite song here, as every one has it's own mix of hooks, endearing lyrics, and memorable melodies that'll ensure it remains ingrained in your subconscious for years to come. They're made all the more beautiful by Ted Hutt's brilliant production job; by fusing the authentic sound of the 50s (all echoey vocals and tremulant guitar reverb) with the big stadium-rock drum sound of the 80s, all with a slick (but not overly so) modern sheen, he's ensured the record has a character all it's own.
It's hard to ignore the immense hype that this record is receiving from all sides, but rather than simply pandering to current trends, or trying to capture the zeitgeist, The Gaslight Anthem have risen above all expectations, stayed true to themselves and their own influences, and made the record THEY wanted to make, one which will stand as a career-defining effort, and a modern classic; in thirty years' time, aspiring musicians will be singing about The Gaslight Anthem with the same fondness that Brian Fallon sings about Elvis
and Miles Davis
on The '59 Sound
, and in no way is that a bad thing.