The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
Bruce. The Boss. Brooooce. There I've said it. Every review of Gaslight Anthem's 2nd album will use at least one of those words. It's a given. Yes, ''59 Special' could only sound more like Mr.Springsteen if it had his name on the front and a free sticker of Clarence Clemons tucked inside as a 'Brucey bonus'. The Gaslight Anthem are blood brothers from the Garden State and they are here, boys and girls,to give it some serious BS.
But hey at least they are self-knowingly walking in Asbury's favourite son's footsteps. The whole album could even become a Where's Bruce? Drinking Game. I called the obvious tip o' the hat to 'I'm On Fire' - “at night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet, it's a pretty good song maybe you know the rest” and the name check to a pair of 'Born In The USA' sweeties, 'No Surrender, Bobby Jean' . Then 'in the backstreets' by 'The River', I found a bevy of Brucey senoritas called 'Sandy', 'Sally', 'Mary' and 'Maria'. Ooh La La. At this point I decided the Where's Bruce? Drinking Game was bad for my health and switched back to Dr.Pepper (SO misunderstood).
''59 Special's 12 tracks are ol' time, bar band rock 'n' roll. This is meat & potatoes three-chords-and-the-truth music with no dubstep loops or fancy studio wizardry. There's no time for hairdresser hair or new rave here, roll out the Chicken wire there's gonna be some Southpaw Grammar tonight. It's heartfelt, dramatic storytelling in the earnest street fightin' tradition of Joe Strummer, Steve Earle or Shane McGowan. It's The Hold Steady with scars and tattoos. With most tracks favouring the double pick-up beat so beloved of 'Born In The USA' it's lively and danceable in a strictly 'plastic glasses and mouth guard' stylee. It's got a high hit rate, is incredibly infectious (in a good way) and passes my stringent Whistle On The Bus? questionnaire with flying colours. It hammers a fair ol' pace throught, only stopping once for a-ciggie -and a-look-at-the-stars on the lovely 'Here's Looking At You, Kid' which is a moody 'Babe, I'll be gone in the morning' parole skipper cut from the 'I'm On Fire' mould.
Lyrically it's more elegant. A singer who's cares about words n' stuff? Praise the Bard! These cats are straight outta S.E. Hinton country; gang fights between the Greasers and the Socs, dreaming 'bout your girl and getting the hell outta dodge. It's easy to imagine Rusty James, Ponyboy Curtis & the Motorcycle Boy being chased through the choruses of these songs. Bands who bleed their pop culture mythology always impress me and ''59 Special' clearly wants to be a page in the American dream. These lyrics dream a Legends-R-US tapestry of Miles Davis, Elvis, Marilyn, Otis Redding, 'Casablanca',Tom Robbins, Tom Petty, 'River's Edge' and Audrey Hepburn. Oh and Bruce Springsteen, did I mention Bruce?
As well as Hollywood Royalty, the landscape is classic Americana, home of the Brave. Broken heroes in the backseats of burnt out Ole '55's, watching the Ferris Wheels in the Jersey Rain,chasin' the lights and the girls through the Santa Ana streets. It's not original but it feels vivid, vibrant and familiar like an old friend you can call on a dark day. Like Woody Allen in 'Play It Again, Sam' it's living in a dream world where characters spray paint silverscreen splendour over the greyness of everyday life. For this listener in rainyday September, Born In The U.K., it's far more idyllic than most of what I'm hearing on UK Channel Boredom.
It's not only escapism, there's always a shadowy threat of tragedy and violence such as in thundering lead single 'The '59 Sound's' killer payoff, “young girls, young boys ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night”.Paddy McAloon once infamously lampooned Springsteen's lyrics with the line “Somethings hurt more than Cars & Girls”, but I'd wager he had never been run over by his ex-Wife.
Of course their hand on heart sincerity leaves them wide open to some easy haymakers. At times it steers dangerously close to guilty pleasures like Bryan Adams' 'Reckless' or - zoiks!- Rick Springfield's 'Jessie's Girl'. The production would've benefited from being more dynamic and edgy, it feels slightly streamlined for FM Radio. It's a sure thing though that on stage, on the night, these tunes will grow and grow and become real contenders.
They might be giants or they might just be the next They Might Be Giants. For their considerable strengths and undoubted passion this is a work-in-progress band, but even if only for the promise of a title fight and not quite the full delivery, Gaslight Anthem are a solid 'outsider bet' well worth taking. For the future I hope they ride that Old White Lincoln through the 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town', but for now it's Saturday night and it's their round, mine's a Tequila Sunset.