Let’s just get this out of the way: Bruce Springsteen. The Gaslight Anthem are from New Jersey and they play earnest rock music that reflects a time that maybe never really existed, and yes, one track from their 2008 album mentions a river’s edge. So, no matter where you read or hear about the band, a mention of the Boss won’t be far behind. And where last year’s punk darlings, Against Me!, rocked politically, the Gaslight Anthem evoke a simpler world—one where Social Distortion and Johnny Cash are always on the jukebox and the death of Buddy Holly was one of the defining moments of the 20th century.
But no one would care about the Gaslight Anthem if the songs didn’t hold up. Even for this cynical jackass, no 2008 album in the alternative sphere seemed as meaningful. It took me far too long to realize that the title track was an elegy for someone who died while the band was playing a gig somewhere, but each time I heard the song afterward, another heartbreaking detail revealed itself, from Fallon wondering if the song’s late subject was “scared when the metal hit the glass” to the reference to the rattle of Marley’s chains. In a strange year when it seemed like a month wouldn’t go by without death making an unwelcome appearance, The ’59 Sound both broke my heart and comforted me a bit.
Thankfully, the disc isn’t all death and dismay. And the combination of Ted Hutt’s production, Brian Fallon’s voice, and what sounds like the greatest bar band you ever happened to stumble upon, makes hearing makes lines like, “So why don’t you sing to me on this long drive home?/Let the sound of your voice sway sweet and slow,” seem poetic, beautiful and nearly perfect.