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The Gaslight Anthem Wows with Sophomore Album

Observer Scene | Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Has any band in recent memory put out as much quality music in as little a time as the Gaslight Anthem? In the last 16 months, they’ve produced two full-length albums and an EP, with not one bad song to be found in their catalogue. While the online hype is starting to build around the group, they remain completely unknown to the mainstream. This is an utter shame. Their spectacular sophomore album, entitled “The ’59 Sound,” is a debut for new label SideOneDummy (also home to the ever-popular Celtic-punks Flogging Molly). Their fusion of the classic rock of yesteryear with the modern punk of today is what makes the album so successful. Check the lyrical references to Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Tom Waits and Thin Lizzy. Listen to the obvious Springsteen influence in front man Brian Fallon’s vocals (album closer “The Backstreets” could literally be a Springsteen cover, it’s that similar). The album is so much more than worship of late-70s radio though. The streamlined drive to the music adds a punch that accents the group’s punk rock roots. The songs rarely eclipse the four-minute mark, avoiding the possible pitfalls of long, elaborate mini-rock operas that so often bog down albums. No, “The ’59 Sound” is a modern punk album in the vein of contemporary groups like Against Me!, who have found both critical and commercial success.  The album kicks off with the one-two punch of “Great Expectations” and the title track. If there were any doubts about the accessibility of the music, they should be shattered here. Catchy and immediate, they are straightforward rockers with massive, radio-ready choruses. The larger production budget that comes with signing to a bigger independent label, such as SideOneDummy, gives the songs a sheen they didn’t have on prior efforts. Though some fans may be quick to launch into cries of “Sell outs!” the poppier sound works perfectly for choruses as catchy as these.  Though the next few songs are great (especially “Film Noir”), “Miles Davis and the Cool” stands heads and shoulders above the pack. Mid-tempo and laid back, it’s a stupendous summer song that salutes a jazz great. The next song, “The Patient Ferris Wheel” notably features Dicky Barrett of Mighty Mighty Bosstones fame. The true stunner of the album, “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” is a slow ballad, where Fallon recalls ex-girlfriends. Sounding utterly resigned, he describes how the relationships turned sour. As the song fades out to guitar, vaguely recalling Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to replay the song. One of the most appealing aspects of the Gaslight Anthem is their lyrical continuity – the repeated mentions of cars, girls named Mary or Maria, and dancing. This doesn’t let up on “The ’59 Sound”, and though it’s not overbearing, fans will notice and appreciate these lyrical Easter eggs. Also, astute listeners will notice references to Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, more examples of the rich songwriting talent Brian Fallon possesses. His lyrics reflect the blue-collar rock that the band plays, and it never seems contrived. There’s been lavish praise given to “The ’59 Sound”, both in this review and elsewhere, but it deserves every word of it. It’s a fantastically consistent album in terms of overall quality; from song to song there is no filler. It’s unpretentious, but not unchallenging, and totally catchy. There isn’t much more you can ask of a band than this. It is absolutely one of the finest, if not the finest, releases this year. Talk about avoiding the sophomore slump. The Gaslight Anthem should be proud of making such a thoroughly solid album.