Gaslight Anthem The - 59 Sound 12inch / Default
Here's Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon on "Old White Lincoln": "I always dreamed of classic cars and movie screens and trying to find some way to be redeemed." That about sums it up for these Jersey brats: redemption comes hand-in-hand with tailfins and Bogart. The Gaslight Anthem might work the Warped Tour mall-punk circuit, but they're not of it. Instead, they belong to an older breed of punk band, one we don't see to much anymore: Social Distortion, Alkaline Trio, fellow Jersey knuckleheads Bouncing Souls. These bands might be emotional, but they're about a million miles removed from emo, especially in the way that term gets tossed around now. These are the bands who sing in full-throated groan-man bellows, who unironically cover old country songs, who heroically keep the hair-grease industry afloat. The '59 Sound, the Gaslight Anthem's sophomore effort, comes steeped in retro signifiers: pinball, Audrey Hepburn pearls, your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos. One song is called "Film Noir" and another is called "Here's Looking at You, Kid", redundantly enough. But all this fuzzy-dice Fonzie nostalgia, this glorification of an imagined era this band isn't old enough to remember, isn't a cheap hook; it's an ingrained and sincere part of their identity. "I always kinda sorta wish I looked like Elvis," Fallon shrugs on "High Lonesome". And then, almost as an afterthought, "I always kinda sorta wished I was someone else."
The name that keeps coming up over and over when people discuss this band is Born to Run-era Bruce Springsteen, and it checks out. Fallon sings in the same sort of tremulous roar, and he's just as heroically unafraid of lyrical cliché. He might even take it too far in "Meet Me By the River's Edge", which is literally about washing your sins away by the goddamn river's edge. But that wholehearted embrace of worn-in tropes is a huge part of this band's charm. The closest thing we get to circa-2008 hardcore is the strangulated NYHC backing bark that disappears as soon as it arrives on "The Patient Ferris Wheel". The way the band channels their heroes, everything feels flattened out into a heartfelt mush.
And because their inspirations are so internalized, the old songwriting tricks feel totally intuitive. The quiet-to-loud dynamics aren't forced, the ahh-ahh backing sighs come at the exact right moments, the church bells on the title track sound like god. These songs are simple, mostly, but they're executed perfectly. Fallon and guitarist Alex Rosamilia do this thing, mostly on the quiet bits, where their guitars wrap twinkly harmonies around each other, getting loose and intricate without being showy about it. And when the guitars turn into chorus-firepower, it just kills because it's been so long since we've heard anyone pull that off with such panache. If you've got even a tiny bit of a soft spot for that bruised-growl retro-punk, The '59 Sound is an answer to a prayer.
And then there's that title track. It's a sort of meditation on a dead friend, Fallon imagining what might've gone through his head in the final moments: "I wonder, were you scared when the metal hit the glass?" He wonders if the dead guy got to hear his favorite song on his way to whatever afterlife he might be headed toward. And then, as the song gets ready to end, there's this flattening bridge where Fallon repeats, almost to himself, over and over, "Young boys, young girls, ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night." It's simple, it's sincere, and it kills me every time.