I'm eternally grateful that I did not first hear this album in 2008. At 18 years old, I probably wouldn't have appreciated it like I do today. Let me assure you that this is due to the fact that The '59 Sound is not a punk rock record; it is a fast-paced, energetic record that is deeply rooted in heartland rock and Bruce Springsteen-influenced Americana. And the older you are, the more likely you are to appreciate The Gaslight Anthem's second full-length album, The '59 Sound. The '59 Sound is all about looking back on your past, reminiscing about the days of your youth, and while being content with the present, wishing you could somehow relive your glory days. It's a theme that resonates deeply with so many people.
I never lived in the 1950s. In fact, most of us probably didn't grow up in the 50s. However, listening to The '59 Sound invokes imagery that recalls the 1950s, the era that I consider to be the Golden Age for America's youth. It was a time of blue jeans and leather jackets, drive-in movie theaters, driving around with your friends on a Saturday with the top pulled down, hanging out at the local diner simply because you could, and sneaking your girl out of her house late at night because her conservative parents wouldn't approve of you, your leather jacket, and your love for Elvis Presley. The 50s were a time when rebellion could be pulled off while retaining a sort of whistful innocence. It was a time before drugs and hippies infilitrated America's youth. So while I never lived in the 50s, The '59 Sound resonates with me more than any other album I have ever listened to. I've faced the fact that I am getting older and the days of my youth are mostly behind me. However, I can look back on my youth with a smile despite the fact that life is now work, marriage, and worries rather than a carefree trip around town on a Saturday night. The '59 Sound brings such a strong sense of nostalgia, and it is impossible to not look back on life and reminisce. Perhaps the line from the album that everybody can connect to more than any other is from "Miles Davis & The Cool," when Brian Fallon sings out, "My how the years of our youth pass on."
The entire album is undoubtedly influenced by the king of heartland and Americana, Bruce Springsteen. Fallon isn't quite the lyricist that Springsteen is, but his stories are impossible to not connect to, even if you have never lived his through his exact tale. Fallon's knack for storytelling is rivaled by only Springsteen out of all of the musicians I have ever listened to. On album opener "Great Expectations," Fallon sings the line, "I saw tail lights last night, had a dream about my first wife, everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you. I saw tail lights last night, had a dream about my old life, everybody leaves so why, why wouldn't you?" Perhaps you have never been married, but most of us can connect to Fallon's tale of abandonment and/or disappointment in the face of great expectations. Sometimes dreams just don't come true and all you have is visions of your old life when things were simpler. "Great Expectations," with its fast tempo and energy, is easily one of the best songs on the album. "Old White Lincoln" is another amazing song, with strong imagery of one's younger days, as the entire song is about looking back on life and missing a partner from one's younger years.
However, with that being said, every song has something to bring to the table. This isn't an "iTunes album" where one buys the singles; if you don't listen to the entire album, you won't appreciate it. The title track is a tribute to a fallen friend, one who apparently died on a in a car wreck on a Saturday night. Another good story from Fallon, I think we can all connect with the line that evokes the invincibility felt by us in the days of our youth: "Young boys, young girls ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night." The middle part of the album isn't as good as the first three songs, but "High Lonesome," "Film Noir," "Miles Davis & The Cool," and "The Patient Ferris Wheel" all are tremendous in their own right. "High Lonesome" is a strong and punk-influenced number. "Film Noir" is a slower-paced piece with a powerful chorus while "Miles Davis & The Cool" is one of the strongest songs in terms of lyrics and has a very cool yet slowed-down beat. Because of Fallon's powerful and Springsteen-like voice and lyrical stories, the music is hard to notice at times. However, the band is very capable musically and show much more talent and variety than a typical punk band. Like I said, it irks me when people consider The Gaslight Anthem a punk rock group. In fact, the album doesn't even pick up a lot of energy again until the closing track, "The Backseat," although the second-to-last track, "Here's Looking at You, Kid" is one of the better songs on the album. It's the slowest song and Fallon's gravelly vocals flow smoothly over a soft music and a nostalgic story of his young loves. Fallon's vocals make him sound like a typical working-class fellow, making them so easy to connect to--something that could be said about Springsteen, as well. The Springsteen comparisons don't stop when it comes to Gaslight Anthem, but they are well-deserved. Fallon and the boys manage to display such a strong Springsteen influence without directly copying him. But "The Backseat" is a real winner. Perhaps no song on the album except the opening "Great Expectations" has as much raw energy. And more than any other song, "The Backseat" recalls the golden days of one's youth and closes out the album on a great note. I recommend this album very strongly.