Review: The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound

Genre-defying is tricky term, and one that gets banded around far too frequently for my liking. Adding a ukelele to an emo band does not make them genre-defying (although it probably does make them terrible). I’ve even heard someone describe Aerosmith as genre-defying. Seriously people, this is getting out of hand. So here comes the biggest piece of hypocrisy you’ve heard since you watched the news this morning, because The ’59 Sound is genre-defying. Admittedly not totally so, I’d still feel comfortable placing it firmly in the rock category, but certainly nothing more specific than that. There’s elements of indie, punk, old-school rock ‘n’ roll, and even folk and rockabilly laced throughout these twelve tracks, but never so much so that any one outweighs the others. Thankfully however this doesn’t make The ’59 Sound come across as confused, as the different influences all fit together so well it’s hard to imagine taking them apart again.

This is not a happy-go-lucky album. The theme is predominantly reflective and mournful, and not just on a personal level. “Here’s Looking at You Kid” and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” may paint a vivid personal picture, but the style and themes touched upon within the songs harken back decades into America’s cultural history, funneling small-town blues together with imagery evoking schoolyard crushes and diner dates. The traditional element is very strong on The ’59 Sound, illustrated most aptly by the title of the album. It really feels like you’re touching an aspect of the past while keeping one foot very firmly in a contemporary setting, and that in itself is a remarkable feat for The Gaslight Anthem to pull off.

Brian Fallon’s vocals are outstanding. Clear but grubby, accessible but distant, his voice is that of the everyman watching life pass by and relating the remarkable experiences that it can grant you. The lyrics are incredibly vulnerable in many instances; on “Here’s Looking At You Kid” Fallon sings, “I used to wait at the diner, a million nights without her,” but equally, there is a confidence in moving forward. In the end you can still “tell her it’s alright.” The musical accompaniment that goes along with him is equally impressive. The rhythm of each individual song feels exactly right. “Casanova, Baby!” jaunts along merrily, and “High Lonesome” has a feel that perfectly balances the optimism and pessimism inherent within the track. The nostalgia is practically bursting through this music, with Alex Levine’s bass work being an excellent example on tracks like “Old White Lincoln.” Set against the lyrics firmly looking back towards loss and regret the album might as well be sepia-tinged, such is the power of the music.

There’s not a weak track on here. Some don’t kick quite as hard, and “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” does meander along rather more than the rest. The album as a whole however, almost reads like a how-to of writing good rock songs. They’re catchy, memorable, deep, evocative, personal, identifiable and most of all a joy to listen to and appreciate. “Great Expectations” and the title track are probably the two strongest but it’s like trying to choose between a Jaguar and an Aston Martin; you know the quality’s there and you’d be pretty happy flying down the highway in either one. The ’59 Sound is a truly remarkable album. It delivers songs that are accessible on first listen, and continue to reveal greater depths the more attention you give it. The mix of different genres into one cohesive body is remarkable, as is the mix of modern style onto traditional substance. In the end it brings together many different strands across both music and time, and creates a body of work stronger than much of what came before it, while sounding like practically none of it, and that is, to my mind at least, the definition of genre-defying.

Final verdict: 9.5/10

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