The Gaslight Anthem‘s sophomore album is one of the best I’ve heard this year.
The record begins with a twofer of fist-in-the-air barnstormers: “Great Expectations” and “The ’59 Sound.” The first has a powerful, uprising chorus (“I saw daylight last night/And I think about my first wife/Everybody leaves/ and I expect as much from you”), while the second is the first (of many) tribute songs on the album, this one to the music of 1959. With these opening cuts, the album grabs you by the shorthairs. And it never lets go. The momentum keeps building through songs that name-check just about every important rocker of the 1970s, borrowing verses and images from Springsteen, citing Tom Petty’s best underrated record (“Southern Accents”) and even, on Film Noir, singing about that girl who came from Nashville on the Counting Crows’ first album. One might ask whether Duritz belongs in the same league as the other folks Gaslight Anthem adores, such as Elvis Presley and Miles Davis, but no matter. This is about the love of music. More specifically, the love of club anthems. There’s lots of local bar bands out there who have cribbed from the same artists, and who have had been successful on the club circuit, like The Hold Steady and Marah, even Eddie and the Cruisers. The Gaslight Anthem belongs in this pantheon. But they’re not just a tribute group. Gaslight Anthem’s second record is the best this genre has to offer, bar none. Without the obtuse lyrics of Hold Steady, the band comes off as more accessible, but musically they’re bringing a power that’s rarely matched in the studio. And vocally, the album is on a part with Joe Strummer, from the passion to the gravel.
Yeah, the album may be straightforward. It might not take many risks. But it’s easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. It’s what music is about: Love, pain, passion, fire and fight, with catchy licks and sing-a-long choruses. I can practically guarantee it will be in my top ten of ’08.