It took me a long time to come around to The Gaslight Anthem’s latest offering, The ’59 Sound. When it leaked weeks before its scheduled release date, I listened to it by what felt like necessity. Their previous album, Sink or Swim never really caught my attention, and the Senor and the Queen EP was alright, but I mainly felt obliged to give it a listen. After all, people like AP’s own Chris Fallon had made it into such a hyped album within the punk community that you’d think it was a new Joey Cape side project. So I listened to it a few times, and felt that it was pretty solid, but quickly moved on. Although the title track instantly became one of my favorite singles, I expected it to be one of those albums that I’d listen to here and there and eventually would wind up at number nine or ten on my albums of the year list.
I was also a little hesitant to embrace the album, I’ll admit it. The hype definitely grabbed my attention, but I was doubtful that Gaslight could POSSIBLY live up to these expectations. Few young bands do when they’re placed in that type of situation. Just look at what’s happened to Rise Against since Revolutions Per Minute. They became darlings of the punk underground with one farily solid album under their belt. Then they managed to spawn a radio hit here and there before sinking into a career defined by repetition and mediocrity. Gaslight’s sound could have been manipulated into a mainstream-friendly sound even faster than Rise Against’s did, and the next thing you know we’d be seeing them on MTV2 a hundred times a day. I was also pretty skeptical of the old-timey sound. It seemed a little gimmicky, much like The Killers’ attempt to sound like the “definitive American band” or The Strokes’ extremely calculated garage-rock style. But I still saw the album as listenable, and wished the band all the success in the world.
Then one day I saw the officially released disc on sale at Wal-Mart (-100,000 punx points for Andrew) for eight dollars. I jumped at the opportunity to simultaneously support a young band with a heaping amount of potential and Sam Dalton’s ever struggling franchise. It entered my rotation of albums that I popped in while driving, and in two weeks of listening almost non-stop, I realized how wrong I was about this disc.
The ’59 Sound is not only a shoe-in to be the album of the year for 2008, but it marks the arrival of the most promising young group in recent memory, by far. With this release they’ve proven that they can tweak their sound enough to stay fresh between albums, while not deviating too far from their overall style. In addition, the album is more of a grower than any that you can name. By the seventh or eight listen you know that what you’re hearing is incredibly special, and from they’re on you’re completely hooked. After repeated listens, you know that you’re in for a ride as soon as you hear the opening notes of “Great Expectations.” You expect it. By now you’ve probably become a little addicted to it. By the time “The Backseat” is drawing to a close, you’re left wanting more. What more could you ask for in an album?
Why this band and their sound is constantly grouped in with punk rock bands is a little beyond me. Their music, especially with this effort, doesn’t seem to fit in with more traditional punk bands like Dillinger Four or even bands like The Lawrence Arms that frequently bend the rules of the genre but stay within it. The Gaslight Anthem seems too big for punk rock. If anything, they definitely qualify as that album that your friends who aren’t fans of punk rock would enjoy, and this release solidifies that. Maybe the reason they’re lumped into the punk genre is because they don’t have a lot of variation in their songs. ’59 has no acoustic ballads, experiments with hardcore and ska, or depressing attempts at dance rock (sorry Against Me!, I still love you guys). The furthest the band goes off from the three and a half minute rock song formula is with the blues vibe present on “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues,” and to a lesser extent, “Film Noir.” But there’s a reason for not messing with the formula: it works. With The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem have mastered the concept of taking a single sound and making it into a solid album.
I would definitely consider myself a skeptic when it comes to hype, but nothing makes me happier then when a band shuts me up. The Gaslight Anthem have done just that with The ’59 Sound. If you haven’t already given this album a spin, get with it. But more importantly, if you’ve listened to it once or twice and it didn’t do much for you, give it another chance. You’re a lot more likely to find your favorite album of 2008 than you might think.