Listening Booth: The Gaslight Anthem, “The ’59 Sound”

Written by Listening Booth, Music

Certain albums deserve to be heard outside the confines of small headphone speakers and cranked through the stereos of traveling cars speeding down the freeway.  The ’59 Sound, the sophomore release from New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem, earns this classification through 12 songs of heartland rock and roll that make it one of the most exciting records released this year.

From the opening scratch of a turntable needle touching down on well-loved vinyl, The ’59 Sound proudly declares that this record is seeped in the sounds and traditions of classic ’60s soul, ’70s classic rock, and the garage band DIY punk music of the early ’80s.   The music of the Gaslight Anthem recalls the Clash, the Replacements, and, in particular, their Jersey forefather, Bruce Springsteen.  Indeed, with this fervent collection of songs, both wonderfully melodic and just this side of polished, the Gaslight Anthem builds on the redeeming promise of rock and roll whose groundwork was laid in the rainy streets of London, the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, and the swamps of Jersey.

The ’59 Sound is full of the images of broken hearts, shattered dreams and untimely deaths.  Yet, percolating beneath the surface is a sense of hope and determination.  This comes through from the band pouring their soul into playing passionate rock and roll music that contains the intricate details of the burdens placed on the shoulders of everyday, ordinary people. The Gaslight Anthem plays with the precision of guys who have been out on the road for over a year, building their reputation.  With limited funds to produce their record, every note counts, every take is precious.  And it shows in the way bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia riff off of each other and the manner in which drummer Benny Horowitz attacks the beat.  Finally, front man Brian Fallon sings each note with the conviction and feeling of his idols, including not only Springsteen, but also Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

Just listen to the title track (also the album’s first single) and I’m sure that you’ll agree that it has one of the catchiest choruses of any song in recent memory.  A desperate, poignant tale of a car crash that takes the lives of a couple of teenage kids, “The ’59 Sound” masterfully switches from the POV of one of the victims to that of the song’s protagonist.  Still, it’s not all classic rock with these guys, as influences like the Cure show up in a couple songs, in particular “Old White Lincoln,” a reflection on a past love or friendship gone missing, and echoes of the aforementioned Replacements appear on “Film Noir.”

With their new album, the Gaslight Anthem has fires a warning shot that while they may be opening for other bands in shoebox clubs at the moment, it’s only a matter of time before they are headliners.  Songs like “Meet Me at the River’s Edge,” “Miles Davis & The Cool,” and “The Backseat” have the power to fill the open space of any arena across the U.S.  And while their anthems are fist-pumping excellent, their countrified soul number, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and the lovely “Here’s Looking At You Kid” prove that these guys can slow things down to let you catch your breath.

While some critics may write off The ’59 Sound as sounding a little too familiar, I think they’re missing the potential of the Gaslight Anthem.  Dylan copped Guthrie, Springsteen dipped into the well of Dylan and Van Morrison, U2 mimicked The Clash, and Coldplay has openly admitted to stealing from Bono and company.  All up-and-coming bands borrow heavily from their influences while coming into their own as artists.  Performing with conviction and a raucous poise that landed them in the indie punk scene (the band is signed to Side One Dummy Records), the Gaslight Anthem bring to mind another band that has a knack for writing delicious pop hooks.  When Green Day burst onto the national scene in 1994 with their breakthrough, Dookie, who knew that they had something as profound as American Idiot in them?  If the Gaslight Anthem continues down the road they’re on, it’s conceivable that they could be the next great American band.