A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010