Saturday, November 08, 2008

‘The ’59 Sound’: Fulfilling Great Expectations

One way to define a truly great album is its ability to evolve for the listener over time. There will be those tracks that jump out immediately on first playback, but upon repeated listens other songs will move into the limelight with nearly equal force and passion. The best of the best never stop providing these momentum swings, continuing to challenge the audience in perpetuity until picking a “favorite” track is nearly impossible.

Such is becoming the case with The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound.”

I’ve been living with this outstanding, seminal record for more than two months now, and its 12 tracks continue to reveal new treasures seemingly every new turn through. There certainly isn’t a weak song on the entire thing, so I felt it warranted a track-by-track breakdown. Here I’ll rate each entry on a five-star scale, iTunes style:

“Great Expectations”
This clarion call to arms sets the mood and tone immediately with its scratched-record intro. From there it’s … blastoff—a perfect way to begin this record.

“The ’59 Sound”
This is now one of my favorite songs of all time. The first verse and chorus are especially poignant and spectacular, with frontman Brian Fallon contemplating life after death through the prism of music. It’s mournful and uplifting at the same time; yes, one of his friends has died unexpectedly, but despite the pain Fallon longs and hopes for the heaven promised by the Everlasting, where we will cast off “the chains I’ve been hearing now for most of my life.” That’s a lot to engage in three minutes, all the while delivering one powerhouse of a track. The band’s best song, and that’s saying something.

“Old White Lincoln”
A bouncy, throwaway rocker (though with somewhat melancholy lyrics) in the tradition of Springsteen’s 1980 album “The River.”

“High Lonesome”
It’s count-the-references time, with lines honoring the Counting Crows and Springsteen. Another uptempo stomper that maintains the album’s breakneck, breathtaking pace. My favorite part comes about two and a half minutes in, where the quote from “I’m on Fire” leads to a pounding drum break into the final chorus.

“Film Noir”
Here’s the albums first (of several) major departures, dipping into a bluesy riff to open before building to a blowout climax at the end of each verse. It’s unlike any other track in the band’s catalog.

“Miles Davis and the Cool”
Drummer Benny Horowitz is definitely the unheralded MVP of this album, and this is the track where he really shines. This song is all about his drum cadence, driving on into yet another thrilling peak in the final chorus. Played live, this song—in which Fallon mixes Springsteenian themes from “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Rosalita”—explodes off the stage.

“The Patient Ferris Wheel”
If I had to pick my least favorite track on “The ’59 Sound,” this is it—guest vocals from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett notwithstanding. The “maybe I should call me an ambulance” refrain is repeated a few too many times, and the guitar part is rather indistinguishable from the album’s other high-energy tracks. Still, that’s being extremely hypersensitive. Performed in concert, this is another winner, especially when the crowd picks up Barrett’s part.

“Casanova, Baby!”
An absolute joy of a swinging song, this contains one of my favorite lines of the entire album: “We could run all night/And dance upon the architecture.”

“Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”
As the title states, this is The Gaslight Anthem’s most straightforward blues song of their short career. It offers a singular main riff that does Led Zeppelin proud. Or maybe it's the best ’80s power ballad you’ve ever heard—only, you know, cool.

“Meet Me By the River’s Edge”
Of all The Gaslight Anthem’s songs to this point, this is the one I could most envision the E Street Band playing, and not because it name-checks three Springsteen tracks. It’s an epic in the best possible way, and contains another of my favorite lines: “You were Audrey Hepburn in pearls.” It’s pure catharsis.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”
Playful, yet still pointed. This is basically a Fallon solo acoustic effort, with just the right amount of complementary instrumentation floating in the background. I love the subject matter, as Fallon manages to stay humble even as he works out some lovelife issues and exacts a bit of retribution on all those girls who ignored him before he became the frontman of a successful band. It’s quietly devastating in the mode of “I’m on Fire,” yet somehow playful, too.

“The Backseat”
To cap off the monumental achievement that is “The ’59 Sound,” the band returns to its punk roots with this finale, which evokes The Bouncing Souls’ “For All the Unheard.” Fallon saves one of his best vocal performances for last, staying almost entirely in his upper register. In the final minute, it takes all the emotion built up throughout the record and pours it all out, sending the listener away drained, but with a smile and buoyed heart.


I know there’s hardly any criticism to be found in my second review of this album, but there’s just none to be had from me. I’ve been listening to "The '59 Sound" almost constantly for the better part of three months now, and I just can’t find anything really wrong with it; on the contrary, it has continued to get better and better and better. It gets my heart pumping just as hard now as it did the first time I heard it—maybe even more, actually, as I've come to know and love each entry. Its ebbs and flows are perfectly paced, and the band stretched its sound just enough and in just the right ways. Fallon has said the goal was to reinterpret soul music through punk rock, and they succeeded. I can't explain how, exactly, but there's such honesty and heart and passion and authenticity written all over and through this record. I don't know how anyone couldn't enjoy it.

Seeing the band live last month sealed the deal: “The ’59 Sound” is an A-plus record. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

(Oh, and just as a, you know, afterthought: The Gaslight Anthem released a four-song EP earlier this year, "Senor and the Queen," and, yep, those are ALL 5-star songs, too. The fact that those were just warm-ups to this album is downright mindblowing.)

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Couldn't take it out of my cd player if I tried. Classis and energetic. Love it Love it Love it. Here's lookin' atcha kid.