SideOneDummy, 2008

The ’59 Sound starts, fittingly, with a sound of romance and antiquity — a needle laid to vinyl. A spindly guitar riff echoes faintly in the distance, then suddenly erupts into an anthem. From this point onward, The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound pulses with warmth and energy forged by the fusion of the most basic instruments of rock music — bass, drums, guitar — and Brian Fallon’s gritty, poetic voice. Everything about the album sounds distinctly unmodern.

There are no instrumental acrobatics, no off-putting rhythms or erratic studio experimentations. Instead, there are twinkling guitars, earnest background vocals, and sing-along choruses. And there’s heart. It sounds like a treasure you found in a box of your parent’s old records and then ripped to tape for the purpose of blasting it in the car all summer. It’s an album driven by the sheer love of music.

This album does not stand alone – it lives in the collective world of art. The opener is not only named after a Dickens novel; in it Fallon cites the story, decrying a childhood spent “writing papers and poetry about Estella.” Dickens is invoked again in the title track, when, musing on death, Fallon hopes “we don’t hear Marley’s chains we forged in life.”

Elsewhere, Fallon uses the names and words of those who came before him, quoting both Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Counting Crows’ “Round Here” in “High Lonesome” and name-checking Miles Davis in “Miles Davis & The Cool.” But there’s no need to catch the references, if you don’t, the lyrics are no less honest or powerful. And if you do, the derivation is far from alienating, rather, it serves to bring the listener into the world of The Gaslight Anthem, a world where the streets are strewn with dog-eared paperbacks and lyrics hang in the air like vapor, waiting to be breathed in and exhaled as something new.

These are songs of feeling, songs of youth and hunger, of loneliness and joy. Fallon’s lyrics are plainly beautiful, simple poetry with brilliant lines that reveal themselves to you slowly, more and more with each listen — so I won’t spoil too many. “All you ever really wanted was for someone to understand,” Fallon cries on “Film Noir.” And it is so beautiful to hear someone say it like that, so plainly. Because that’s art. And that’s The Gaslight Anthem.