The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
Anyone who’s been within earshot of my speakers recently will already know that I’m rather enjoying The Gaslight Anthem‘s second album The ’59 Sound.
I don’t like punk. As my good friend Richard will testify, getting me to listen to anything that sounds like it got too close to a Pistols record in its youth is next to impossible. I’d probably put it down to being scarred by exposure to terrible early 2000s American pop-punk (blink182, Ataris, New Found Glory…), an unavoidable consequence of going to school with posh English boys who aspired to be skaters. The wholesale commercialisation of the idea (not for the first time, many would argue) by the major label machine the US brought us such delights as Avril Lavigne and also tended to put quote serious unquote music fans off the idea of anything vaguely fast-paced and guitar-driven from the US.
So it is all the more remarkable that The Gaslight Anthem are the first US rock band to creep into my consciousness, and onto my iPod, in a while. If there’s an obvious reason for this, it is the Springsteen influence that every critic for miles around has flagged up on this record. When the Killers put out Sam’s Town, everyone screamed SPRINGSTEEN! They were, in fact, misled by one moment of descending chromatic E-Street impersonation and concluded that Brandon Flowers and Co had written the new Born to Run. They had not, but fear not, ladies and gentlemen, because Brian Fallon and Co have.
It is not just that they hail from New Jersey, although that surely adds a note of authenticity to proceedings. No, The Gaslight Anthem have captured something of the Boss’s heartfelt writing too. Fallon, like Springsteen, has no fear of lyrical cliché; he writes working songs for working men, and when he goes down to the river, just like Bruce, he is literally going to wash those sins away.
The music is less sophisticated than the E-Streeters, that’s for sure, and it’s clear where the punk categorisation has sprung from; it opens up with a driving snare drum that gets right in your face and stays there, joined by aggressive guitars and an insistent vocal delivery.
The ’59 Sound, perhaps unsurprisingly given its title, spends a lot of time harking back to the past. The sound in question is “coming outta grandmama’s radio” (remember the days when a radio was something people owned, not something we simulated on the internet using programs to make sure we don’t hear anything we don’t like?). 1959 was the year the music died, of course; it is unlikely to be accidental that it harks back to the death of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. The album is littered with quotes, from the “Maria came from Nashville…” line lifted from Counting Crows’ best song (I can’t help wondering if this is a habit Fallon picked up from Adam Duritz, renowned for peppering live renditions of his songs with lyrics from artists as diverse as Prince and Fountains of Wayne) to one of Bruce’s own lines, a couple of Tom Petty references and some Dylan for good measure. It is not limited to rock and roll either; the title track refers to “Marley’s chains”, and it comes after an opening track called “Great Expectations.” Clearly, someone wanted to be very sure we knew that they have Dickens in New Jersey nowadays. In fact, this probably explains why I like the record so much; the touchstones aren’t punk at all, nor are they remotely cool. This record could have lifted lines by Patti Smith or Television, the MC5, The Clash or the New York Dolls. Instead, it is chock-full of lines by Springsteen, Petty and Counting Crows; middle(-of-the-road) America.
Given this, it’s hardly surprising that I love the album, because August and Everything After, Full Moon Fever and Born to Run are three of my all time favourites. That’s heady company, but The ’59 Sound stands up just fine; surefooted, concise and coherent a set of songs as you’re likely to hear from guitar-toting Americans this year, and forming the soundtrack to my summer.