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About twice a year someone says that there’s a new band that’s gonna save Rock and Roll. Some trendsetter decides that leather jackets and guitars are cool again, and critics old and young praise them for “saving” Rock, like it’s some feeble old man on his deathbed. Well the Gaslight Anthem has given us proof that Rock and Roll doesn’t need any saving, it’s alive and well and it’s living in central Jersey.
The Gaslight Anthem emerged out of the New Brunswick, New Jersey hardcore scene in 2005 with their first album Sink or Swim, an unpolished highly energetic LP that laid the groundwork for their future material. In between the dates of their daunting tour schedule they wrote and recorded their second album, an EP called Senor and the Queen, which was considerably stronger and more focused than their first attempt. The ’59 Sound continues to build on the formula of their previous efforts, finally showing what the Gaslight Anthem is really capable of.
This album is not a technical masterpiece. Pat Metheny fans should probably stop reading this review right about now. No single musician stands out as a virtuoso, and very similar chord patterns are used in almost every song. What’s great about this album is that it sounds like a real band recorded it. Brain Fallon’s voice is comfortable and confident while still sounding urgent, and his band supports him without stepping on his toes. In every track you can hear endless hours of basement practices and months upon months of touring.
The ’59 Sound is full of images. Each song paints a picture of the social and physical landscape from which it emerged. Diners and Ferris wheels populate a landscape of beaches and highways. The characters aren’t glamorous, but they’re immediately recognizable. Who doesn’t know someone like Sandy and Johnny in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”, a couple who grew up and lost their exuberance?
Or Anna in “Here’s Looking At you, Kid,” the girl who moved out of a small town and lost herself in the city? The characters and places in this album are what make it genuine, like it came to life by itself and this album is merely a record of it.
The masterpiece of this album is the last song “The Backseat”, a gut-wrenching tribute to the pain of adolescence. In every line you can hear the frustration of someone who doesn’t know where he’s going, how he’s getting there, or why he’s even trying. It’s a battle cry for the confused and vulnerable. Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows what Fallon means when he sings,
“In the back seat we just tried to some room for our knees
In the backseat we just tried to find some room to breathe”.
So thanks a lot, but Rock and Roll doesn’t need any help. You can keep your sunglasses and you can keep your prop guitars. You can keep your savior, as long as we’ve got the Gaslight Anthem.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org