The Gaslight Anthem
The '59 Sound


4.5
superb

Review

by Carter Vance USER (10 Reviews)
April 8th, 2011 | 21 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Nostalgic? Yes. Regressive? Yes. Brilliant? Definitely.

Two of the best albums that came out in 2008 were Kanye West's electro-pop experiment 808s and Heartbreak and The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound. The records, while of similar quality level could scarcely be more different: 808s is all depressive, paranoid truths, delivered with an appropriately alien and synthetic musical backdrop; it's harsh at points but altogether necessary and, despite its frigidness, it finds pockets of warmth within heartache that make it, ultimately, a life-affirming release. The '59 Sound, by contrast, feels like a musical postcard from a time that, if it ever existed at all, is long gone and, as such, it's all warm, mushy nostalgia and heart-on-sleeve working class sentiments backed up by fittingly scrappy, but never mean or overly aggressive, guitar rock. Why draw this comparison? More to say that, above everything else, music comes in all shapes, sizes and levels of quality, which are not mutually exclusive to one another, and The Gaslight Anthem come from a very specific musical place that might not appeal to all but certainly has a distinct legacy behind it.

The obvious start point for The Gaslight Anthem is Bruce Springsteen, more specifically, the Springsteen of Born To Run and prior, before the cynicism set in and he was creating grand lyrical mosaics out of everyday life. Certainly, that characterization checks out (hell, "Meet Me By The River's Edge" includes the lyric "no surrender/my Bobby Jean") but there seems to be a slowly developing sub-genre of bands like this and it's rather an exciting prospect. It hasn't been termed yet termed yet, but all these groups share a general aesthetic: soulful, grown-man vocals, alternately twinkling or clacking guitars, working class subject matter, at least two of the band members looking like auto mechanics, punk-ish energy/enthusiasm, an affinity for cleaned-up 50's nostalgia, slight nods to old-school country and the lead singer having a penchant for hair grease and sleeve tattoos. Other examples of this "movement": The Loved Ones, Bad Religion (sometimes), Social Distortion (at their least emo) , This Charming Man, Against Me! (at their least shout-y).

The Gaslight Anthem, then, while certainly not the first band to do this sort of thing, are the best at it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they're the band who has most fully stripped away the harshness and meanness of their punk rock roots, while not abandoning the energy. If one were to term The '59 Sound as a "punk " record, it would be more in the Ramones sense (stripped-down, speedy musicality with an appreciation for pre-Beatles rock & roll) than in the Sex Pistols sense (outright rage/nihilism, with confrontational singing and lyrics) but even that isn't really accurate; it's far too cleanly produced (but, thankfully, retains grit and energy) and has a greater tonal range. Secondly, they're the band with the most naked heartland-rock fixation. Not just Springsteen, but Dylan and Petty (who gets a chorus name check in "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues") too. The guitar sounds, often interlocking in patterns which alternately jangle brightly or clatter like those beat-up car engines they love to sing about, are the biggest give away in that regard but check out the rock-solid, but deceptively complex, rhythm section and the clever use of non-rock sounds (the cabaret stand-up bass on "Film Noir", the clanging church bells on the title track, the brief scat-singing (!) interlude on "Great Expectations") for further evidence.


There's also the issue of those lyrics, which are the third factor putting the band above their competition. With a fair warning that if you don't have a sort of unreasonable nostalgia for an era you've never lived in, you probably won't go ga-ga over the band's shameless appropriation of 50's motifs. But, to those of a certain mindset, this is mana from heaven: they sing about sleeping on beaches and using pay phones, one chorus references "high-top sneakers", "sailor tattoos" and an "old '55", another contains a wish about looking "like Elvis", they speak in grand declarations like "I'll love you forever/if I ever love at all", they reference Audrey Hepburn and Marylin Monroe, the phrase "twist the night away" is used with no irony, they think Ferris Wheels and carnivals are the coolest things ever. One could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea. To be fair, the band does, on occasion, try to bring a bit of edge to this fuzzy-dice nostalgia trip (there's a semi-hardcore punk backup shout on "The Patient Ferris Wheel" and "High Lonesome" contains a line about "the powder on the bar") but those ultimately feel hollow, perhaps the last fleeting vestige of traditional punk being molted away. Of course, none of this would mean anything if the band didn't believe it; if they were winking or being ironic. But they seem to be 100% serious about this stuff, which is pretty commendable. In an era where being whiny/angry is almost a guarantee of success (whether in standard radio-rock or more MTV-friendly “emo”), it's great to hear a band with this much zest and enthusiasm (even if they have to reach back nearly 60 years to find it). Heck, even the ex-girlfriend ballad "Here's Looking At You, Kid" and the dead friend-tribute title track are delivered with faint smiles of fondness than agonized cries of pain and are much better for it.

Of course, even if you aren't convinced by the words here, these songs are impeccably written and performed and should convince by themselves. Ebbing and flowing at just the right points, tracks like "Film Noir" and "Old White Lincoln" have both breezy calms and swirling storms. "The Patient Ferris Wheel" and album-closer "The Backseat" are the most closely-allied with basic punk and, thus, have a tinge more aggression but still drip with warm romance. Slower numbers like the blues-tinged "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" and the sparkling "Here's Looking At You, Kid" show the band's range. The record's biggest stunner, though, is "Casanova, Baby!" a rockabilly-ish, night-on-the-town number with great guitar work (dig that bridge!) and the album's best set of words ("every slow, mad song/is a night I'd like to spend with you”).

In the end, The '59 Sound is very much a regressive album; it doesn't try to advance any sort of music at all, it's almost stubbornly stuck in the past lyrically. But that's almost instantly forgivable because the band has written a great set of tunes which live up to their influences and because the lyrical sentiments, as overly nostalgic as they might be, are fun to get lost in. This album creates a world of beat-up classic cars, beaches at sunset, hotly anticipated county fairs, dancehalls filled with the sounds of 50's rock, charming, swooning boys in leather jackets and the beautiful, sundress-wearing girls who love them. It's a world where there's nothing that can't be fixed by a good, long drive or a dance with your sweetheart, where the only violence is when your friend knocks you out for making a pass at his girl (but you're still best buds after the ambulance arrives), where you can wash way all your problems with a dip in the river and where the daily grind of your job just gets you more ready for a late night of cruising along the open road.

It's a world that's pretty damned far in the past, if it ever even existed at all, but wouldn't it be nice if our world was a bit more like it?



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user ratings (1312)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
ShadowRemains
April 8th 2011


21317 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

rules so much

Eko
April 8th 2011


2119 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you like parentheses.

ShadowRemains
April 8th 2011


21317 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I don't understand the comparison between Kanye's album and The Gaslight Anthem's. What's the point of that?


ya i kinda wondered this too


wabbit
April 8th 2011


7020 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

tough album to review because this arguably has the best reviews of any album on the site.

ShadowRemains
April 8th 2011


21317 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

k nvm u have like 5 reviews on the front page. that's a bit suspicious

CarterVance
April 8th 2011


37 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

About the five reviews thing: I was unaware that it's generally considered poor form to post more than one review per day until m friend who invited me to the site informed me of this. Sorry, my bad it won't happen again.

The exact reason there's so many so quickly is that most of them are edited/expanded versions of reviews I wrote for a school newspaper that I already had done and saved. Just thought I'd open myself up to more criticism and such.

The Kanye comparison was/is a stretch, I realize, I guess I didn't get across what I wanted to as clearly as it could have.

Thanks for the feedback, though, guys!

letsgofishing
April 8th 2011


908 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, show some discipline on the parenthesis. Because really what they're doing is breaking up the flow, making it
harder to read this review. Like I said in that other review, keep the information that needs to be there, get rid of what
doesn't.

Ha Ha, I seriously thought you were typing all these out on the spot though. I'm sorry for being mistaken that you have
no life :P. Sorry man. Don't sweat the 5 review thing either, we won't hold it against ya.

This is the best out of your 5 by the way. Good work here. POS.

defjaw83
April 8th 2011


1774 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Album is fucking perfect

Blackbelt54
April 8th 2011


4276 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nice review, but talking about 808s isnt really necessary

album is one of my favorites ever

Irving
Staff Reviewer
April 8th 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hey Carter. Good to see you on a roll here...=p

Some general comments:

i.) You are awesome.

ii.) The Gadlight Anthem's

Tsk tsk.

iii.) I agree with everyone else's comments about 808s and the paragraphs. I will also add that this review is perhaps two paragraphs too long. Like an over-wrought album, this causes proceedings to become a tad draggy towards the end, and takes away from what is a solid review.

iv.) You're a welcome addition to the site Carter. Your quality of writing is very encouraging to have around, seriously. Now if only we could see you do a new release =)

Digging: Portishead - Dummy

Eko
April 9th 2011


2119 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I guess it was irvings friend

Irving
Staff Reviewer
April 9th 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

:D!

Counterfeit
April 9th 2011


17819 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I guess I can see the Kanye comparison. Cause both these releases center around the past/relationship(s); while this is more reminiscent, Kanye's is like I'm sad, and you can piss off.

or somethin like that

ShadowRemains
April 9th 2011


21317 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ur funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnny

letsgofishing
April 9th 2011


908 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This is the most rock and roll album of the last decade.

SucDePortocale
January 29th 2012


69 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Album's still as good as ever

porch
January 29th 2012


8460 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

it's alright, kind of a modern spin on the replacements/springsteen. nothing amazing but at least it doesn't suck as much dick as some of the other bands of that ilk (see the hold steady)



fish.
Contributing Reviewer
January 29th 2012


22033 Comments


I prefer The Horrible Crowes

Digging: Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

wabbit
January 29th 2012


7020 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

dude sonic in 10 years when no one listens to this you should get it it's m/

jdennis31
May 3rd 2012


6511 Comments


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