Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem - 'The '59 Sound'

I’m always wary when I check out a Recommended If You Like description of a band. It sets the bar too high. Sorry, gravelly voiced punk band that writes songs about feeling guilty and getting drunk, but you don’t sound enough like Jawbreaker and/or Hot Water Music. Same goes for you, female-fronted pop punk band that doesn’t really sound that much like Discount. The worst possible thing you can tell me in an attempt to turn me on to a new band, though, is compare them to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, and yet that is exactly how I’m going to describe The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound.

Formed in 1972, The E Street Band provided the musical muscle needed for frontman Springsteen to concoct his elaborate love letter to rock ‘n’ roll, soul, folk, bluegrass, gospel, jazz, and blues. Music became Bruce’s own church, something he now plays up live with promises of a “rock ‘n’ roll baptism.” As a lyricist, Bruce remains a top tier, highly descriptive narrator of losers and misfits. From Nebraska’s economic fallout to Born to Run’s get-rich-quick desperation to The Rising and Devils & Dust’s more politically minded tales, Springsteen is a master chronicler of failed romances, business schemes, and family ventures. Sometimes all that’s keeping him, and his characters, alive, is hope and a song.

It is with slight hesitation that I apply those same virtues (life is rough, but music is good) to The Gaslight Anthem on what is arguably their finest release to date, The ’59 Sound. Frontman Brian Fallon is one of the finest lyricists in punk rock today, and we’re lucky to have him. While Bruce strove, and continues to strive, to showcase his musical roots instrumentally, Fallon vocalizes his many loves. Miles Davis and Tom Petty get shout outs on “Mile Davis & the Cool” and “Even Cowgirls Get Blues,” respectively, but where Fallon really succeeds at honoring his influences is on his Counting Crows ode, “High Lonesome.”

“High Lonesome,” like a lot of TGA songs, is about girls and trying to get by. “Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand / I always kinda, sorta wished I looked like Elvis,” Fallons says, mimicking Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz from “Round Here.” In “Round Here,” Maria wishes she could meet a boy who looks like Elvis Presley. While I feel it’s kind of lame for Fallon to nick someone else’s lyric for a chorus, I also love this cohesive moment of pop music fandom. Fallon doesn’t rip off Counting Crows; he defines life’s many moments through pop songs. Songs can convey more in three minutes than films can do in three hours or books in 300 pages. Like Fallon says himself in the track, “It’s a pretty good song / Maybe you know the rest.”

But enough with the music history and English class interpretations: Let’s talk about rocking. The ’59 Sound is a massive improvement over debut Sink or Swim, a record that was merely good, and lives up to the promise generated by perfect EP Señor and The Queen. The ’59 Sound is chock full of mournful vocals, bluesy guitar work, and some of the best damn songs this side of Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s always exciting to catch a band in the middle of their development, and right now, it feels as if The Gaslight Anthem is invincible. Whether they’re kicking out the jams like on the lead single/title track, or getting extra melancholy and mellow on “Here’s Looking at You, Kid,” the band simply cannot fail. RIYL if you like Bruce Springsteen, punk rock, well-told stories, memorable lyrics, and things that are ridiculously awesome.

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