A Poetic Spin on the Same Old Story

While I was living it up this summer (read: bumming around on Facebook), my friend sent me a link to a video of the Gaslight Anthem singing “The’59 Sound.” The catchy punk song was from the band’s sophomore album by the same name. I soon checked out the rest of the songs on the album. The Gaslight Anthem, like so many other bands today, easily falls into the “alternative” genre and does not do much to distinguish itself from the pack. It has a standard rock line-up: lead and rhythm guitars, bass and drums. The lead singer’s scratchy voice lends rawness to the sound, which is perfect for the underground punk rock scene. “The ’59 Sound” and “Great Expectations” are both very strong songs, and either one has the potential to be a moderately successful single. “Here’s Looking at You Kid” and “Old White Lincoln” are also key tracks. But for a mainstream audience, the Gaslight Anthem will need a fuller sound, because they often sound hollow. The other guitarists rarely add back-up vocals and never sing in harmony. The guitar riffs are generic and simplistic, with the only possible exception of those in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” But if you are an alternative junkie, this is a good band to mix in with your Relient K and Death Cab for Cutie, if only to use as white noise while you do your homework. Not that these New Brunswick, New Jersey natives aren’t talented. They have a solid, if fairly standard, album that owes much of its quality to the songwriting. The lyrics are strong and diverse, dropping both Charles Dickens and “The Lovin’ Spoonful” references. Lines like “We’ve been burned by all our fears just from growing up around here. Our father’s factories marked our cars, while Eden burned against the stars” evoke a feeling of restlessness, a desire to escape that every teenager experiences. The album touches on topics ranging from dying (The ’59 Sound) to parasitic, poisonous exes (“Film Noir”). Between “Film Noir” and “Here’s Looking at You Kid” in particularly, one gets the feeling the lead singer has had some extremely bad luck in the romance department. According to the lyrics, every girl from Gayle to Jane to Anna has stomped on his heart. The band voices a fear of dying before truly living. Lead singer Brian Fallon croons his regrets into the mic: “I hope we don’t hear Marley’s chains we forged in life/’Cause the chains I been hearing now for most of my life.” The album is noticeably dark. Misery will find company in songs like “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Here’s Looking at You Kid.” Yet there is also hope and possibility in “the ’59 Sound.” The album brings out the universal ache for adventure and romance. In one song, Fallon is throwing rocks at his girlfriend’s window, asking her to come down and run away with him. Cliché? Definitely, but the band members often mix in details about their own lives to keep things interesting. (“You and your high top sneakers and your sailor tattoos, your old ’55 that you drove through the roof”) These heartfelt lyrics make the album worth at least one listen. Grade: 4+