Friday, 1 June 2018

Classic Album: The ’59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem (by Emma Prew)


Cliché as it perhaps sounds, as music fans we probably all have that one band or album that ‘changed your life’. Whether that’s down to it helping you through a difficult time in your life or because it connected with you in a way that nothing had before. Maybe it reminds you of growing up or it sounded like nothing you’d ever heard before… Or maybe, like in my case, hearing that album just simply opened up a whole new genre and world of music to you from that moment on. That’s what happened with me and The ’59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem.


This August the album turns ten years old and before that the band, who have been on an indefinite hiatus since 2015, will be reuniting to play a select few live dates in the US, Canada, the UK and Germany where The ’59 Sound will be played in full. With the UK anniversary dates just around the corner, it seemed like the right time for me to talk about my favourite album of all time and how it led me to discover a little genre called ‘punk rock’.

I still feel a little bit of an imposter reviewing albums and such on this blog as, especially compared to its other contributors, I am relatively new to the genre. Obviously I’ve been a punk fan as long as I’ve been writing here – and since before I met Colin (punk rock is why and how we met) – but I didn’t grow up with bands like Green Day (at least, not Dookie-era Green Day) or listen to Fat Wreck bands when I was a teenager, etcetera etcetera… Punk rock came later for me but I guess it was better late than never! Although, let’s get one thing straight, when I was a teenager I was listening to rock and alternative music rather than chart pop music! So anyway, I don’t know if people still watch music channels on TV but in 2008 I did – mostly Kerrang and Scuzz, plus occasionally MTV2. It was whilst flicking between those three channels, and on MTV2 nonetheless, that I came across a video that I hadn’t seen before and for some reason my eyes and ears were instantly glued to the screen. The video was for The ’59 Sound, the lead single from the album of the same name, by a band called The Gaslight Anthem – and I’d never heard the song or of the band before. As I write this, I’ve looked up and watched the actual video for the first time in years to remind myself what it was like (just the video, I know the song very well). I still don’t know what exactly it was that drew me in – the story in the video is a funeral – but I guess something just clicked inside my brain with the music and I was hooked from that moment. I watched the video, looked The Gaslight Anthem up online (Myspace I imagine), ordered a CD of The ’59 Sound – soon to be followed by Sink Or Swim, I hasten to add – and that was it. I’d found this band that I didn’t know I was looking for and I didn’t know that I needed in my life but I was in love. Just like that.

Now I should probably get to talking about the album itself because, although the title track was what lead me to the full album, it is the album as a complete package that I love more than anything. From start to finish, the album is in my opinion near flawless. Those 12 tracks work so well together, telling stories that are linked together in their subject matter and sound as well as the ever present sense of nostalgia but without actually being a concept album. Musically The ’59 Sound is a mixture of punk, rock ’n’ roll and Americana with plenty of soulful and bluesy elements that give the album and the band a fairly unique sound. At least it was a unique(ish) sound at the time – now I’ve heard loads of Gaslight-esque bands and most likely I really like them too! However, with Brian Fallon’s warm yet deep New Jersey accented vocals and poetic lyrics that never fail to transport me to cowboy country America, I still can’t really put into words why I love this album so much.

Listening to The ’59 Sound with my eyes closed, particularly through headphones or listening to the album on vinyl with no other distractions, is like watching a film play in my head. It’s nostalgic for me on a personal level but the different stories threaded throughout the songs – tales of love, life, loss, regret, Miles Davies, sailor tattoos, ferris wheels, driving, dancing, diners, riverbanks and, of course, girls called Sally and Maria (and Anna and Jane and Gail, etc.) – are irresistible. Just read the following lyrics and you’ll hopefully see what I mean: ‘And they burned up the diner where I always used to find her, Licking young boys' blood from her claws.’ (Great Expectations), ‘And I always dreamed of classic cars and movie screens.’ (Old White Lincoln), ‘So why don't you sing to me on this long drive home, And let the sound of your voice sway sweet and slow.’ (Miles Davies & The Cool), ‘We could run all night and dance upon the architecture, Come and take my hand, I'll give the very best I can.’ (Casanova, Baby!), ‘But I used to wait at the diner a million nights without her, Praying she won't cancel again tonight.’ (Here’s Looking At You, Kid), ‘Come July, we'll ride the ferris wheel, Go 'round and 'round and 'round, And if you never let me go, Well, I will never let you down.’ (The Backseat) Although I've always considered Even Cowgirls Get The Blues to perhaps be my favourite track from the album, possibly for its Tom Petty reference and possibly for its huge rocking guitar parts.

Needless to say, it’s not just me that loved the album. It propelled The Gaslight Anthem from a relatively underground punk band to a more polished alternative rock band that was heard all over the world. The album was rated highly by the bigger music critics and also well reviewed by the likes of Punknews and Absolute Punk. And somehow the band managed this just one year after their debut album, Sink Or Swim, was released. Now, I know that the proper old school Gaslight and punk rock fans who may be reading this post will be thinking ‘But Sink Or Swim is the best album!’ (Colin agrees with you.) Sink Or Swim is also one of my favourite albums of all time – and it definitely comes no.2 in my Gaslight Anthem album ranking – but I just don’t have the same connection to it as I do The ’59 Sound. Some people believe your favourite album by your favourite band will always be the one you heard first, well that’s the case here for me but I wouldn’t say that goes for every band I like. Sink Or Swim is the more raw, more ‘punk’ album of the band’s back catalogue and in discovering the debut album shortly after The ’59 Sound it then opened a gateway for me into the wonderful and surprisingly (at the time) expansive world of punk rock.

These days you can check out ‘related artists’ for a band on Spotify or look up their influences and likes on Facebook. In 2008 I was a keen user of Last FM, a website that catalogues what you listen to on iTunes or similar media players and creates charts of your listening habits and whatnot. I found it to be handy for its ‘similar artists’ section on each band’s page and it was there that I found bands such as Against Me!, Fake Problems, The Bouncing Souls and The Lawrence Arms. (I’m also aware that maybe ‘in your day’ you read the thank yous bit on your album’s lyric sheets or checked out other bands on the same label… but I didn’t do that because I’m lame and young/late to the punk party.) Before I knew it, I was down a rabbit hole discovering more and more ‘punk rock’ bands. I also got into artists like Chuck Ragan and Dave Hause, whose solo projects appealed to my folkier music tastes, and, of course, that then meant I discovered Hot Water Music and The Loved Ones. Most people probably hear the band and then the solo project but, hey, I did it the wrong way around. With each new punk band I discovered, came more ‘similar artists’ lists to check out.

The brand of Americana infused punk rock that The Gaslight Anthem play will always be my favourite sub-genre of punk rock – and if you happen to hear a band that has that sort of sound I will most likely love it as well. I now enjoy listening to a wide range of music that mostly fits under the overall category of punk and I know who I have to thank for that. Maybe there would have been another band and another album that would have opened my eyes and ears to punk rock if I hadn’t stumbled across The Gaslight Anthem and The ’59 Sound when I did. I’ll never know but what I do know is that The ’59 Sound changed my life. Thank you, Gaslight! I love you.

This review/ramble was written by Emma Prew.