No. 59: The Gaslight Anthem, “The ’59 Sound”

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.

The Gaslight Anthem [MySpace]
80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)

idolator
  • Murk

    Just picked this up today, & as soon as I dialed it up on my iPod it joined a select rank of albums in my life: albums whose first song or two I listened to ten or so times in a row before proceeding to the rest of the record (Marquee Moon, Daydream Nation, Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines).

    Nice that these guys follow Fucked Up & Against Me! in being among the four or five best punkish bands in the world while also having one of the worst band names ever committed to a notebook of angsty high-school poetry.

  • Anonymous

    This band is pretty good, but they’re no Against Me. And I agree with the guy above me about the name.

  • Marth

    I have to give Idolator the nod on this one. I hadn’t even heard of them until you posted one of their videos a few months ago. I can’t really listen to the whole album all at once (how many references to cool old stuff can anyone really take?), but when they’re on, they’re really on. Good call.

  • El Zilcho!

    I wasn’t aware of these guys until about a week ago, but ever since I heard the album, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

    I actually think I heard of them earlier in the year, but thought that The Gaslight Anthem sounded like a crummy emo band name. I’m glad I ended up listening to them, since it’s now one of my favorite releases of the year.

  • MayhemintheHood

    I could listen to this song and “Great Expectations” all day long.

  • KurticusMaximus

    The album may be repetitive, but those first three songs are easily among the year’s best album openers.

    And “Old White Lincoln” made me fall in love with every girl who wears sailor tattoos and high-tops sneakers. As if I wasn’t already.

    Oh, and in the battle of Springsteen-influenced bar bands, these guys beat the Hold Steady by a mile.

  • DeeW

    eMusic hit the nail on the head when they put this on their Best of.. list. I’m so glad I’ve been introduced to them. It’s incredible.

    You know those bands you want to tell all of your friends about? This is one of those for me.

  • Al Shipley

    Does anyone else think Gaslight’s singer sounds eerily like Brandon Flowers? Their album is kind of like Sam’s Town if it was good.

  • Anonymous

    I was talking about these guys months ago, and if this album — their debut — is as good as this, what could they achieve with number two or three?

    I picked the Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound as my #2 album of the year, with the Hold Steady (another often-named competitor) at #4. Alejandro Escovedo ‘s Real Animal, which has its own Springsteen connection, is being roundly ignored by these year-end lists (tho’ he’s #6 on mine).

    I’m still not hearing much love for Scott Kempner’s incredible Saving Grace, though. This disc is so far under the radar that it’s invisible, but I still say that it’s the year’s best, bar none: Standing In The Shadows of Love with Scott Kempner album review

  • MayhemintheHood

    @Al Shipley: I thought that the first second I ever heard him sing. He sounds like Brandon Flowers trying to sound like Bruce Springsteen.

  • Lucas Jensen

    For Springsteen-esque jamz, why does no one talk about the amazing Jason Anderson? He puts all of these to shame in my book.

  • Anonymous

    is it just me, or is this band’s name the bizzaro world equivalent of the already-established Streetlight Manifesto?

  • Thierry

    @Rev.Keith: As I pointed out elsewhere, this is actually their second album. Also, the Springsteen comparison is obvious, but I also hear a bit of the Tim/PTMM-era Replacements in their sound, too. I’m surprised Nick Hornby hasn’t latched onto them yet.

  • Bong14

    Glad to see this is getting the credit it deserves. It’s a fucking great album – perhaps a teeny bit unchanging in mood (and missing the more aggressive sound of the debut) – but brilliant in its romanticism and sincerity. Since everyone else has already called out the first two songs I’d like to mention the last two – “Here’s Looking At You Kid” is a terrific walk through past loves while “The Backseat” brings back the Springsteen and the bombast for the big finish.

  • joshservo

    @Thierry: “A bit of the Tim/PTMM-era?” These guys sound like the Replacements’ replacements. Not that that’s a bad thing.