Love and Heartbreak in Small Town America

From the very first second of The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘The ‘59 Sound’, it’s clear that they’re harking back to a bygone era. As soon as you press play, the familiar sound of a needle hitting a vinyl record plays for a few seconds before the opening track – ‘Great Expectations’ – springs into action. The album cover, which features a black and white image of the band with a stamp in the top right saying that the record is in full dimensional stereo, gives a hefty nod to album covers of the 50s and 60s. A simpler time when a record sleeve just had a picture of the artist on the front, and a list of tracks on the back.

On the record, the band blends an Americana rock sound with punk, which comes together to create a warm but pacy and urgent sound. Vocalist Brian Fallon’s lyrics are evocative, conjuring up images of an idealised suburban America from decades gone by. The album’s various characters drive Cadillacs, sip coffee in diners, and listen to songs on the radio. Against this backdrop of 1950s America, Fallon’s lyrics take on a melancholy edge, discussing failed relationships, death, the loss of youth, and unrequited love. Despite this, the album never feels like a heavy listen, and many of the album’s saddest tracks lyrically seem sunny and happy until you dig a little deeper.

 

The band have drawn extensive comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, and the similarities between the two can be seen most clearly on this record. Like Springsteen, the band hail from New Jersey, and the band’s lyrics have a similar storytelling focus, about love, heartbreak, and dashed dreams in small town America. There are even a few references to the Boss’ music in the lyrics. Some deride the band for ripping off his sound, which is more than a little unfair. While Bruce Springsteen is clearly an influence – and one that the band wears on their sleeve on this record – they are not mere copycats. It’s hard to imagine Springsteen putting out a record with such a pronounced punk edge.

 

There’s plenty of debate among Gaslight Anthem fans about which of their records is the best, which is always the sign of a great band. But for me, it always comes back to this one. There’s not a single wasted track, not even a single wasted second throughout its 42 minute runtime. Every single song is an absolute winner, and there’s a good blend of fast pacy rock tracks, and slower, more brooding numbers. I always find it difficult to pick a favourite record of all time, but if you catch me on the right day, there’s a solid chance I’ll say ‘The ‘59 Sound’.

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