Gaslight Anthem & the Escape From Music’s Middle

Some bands that we love are like gallons of milk. We love ’em and then just like that, they’re gone. They either were finished or unfortunately stuck around a bit too long and started to emanate a foul odor that began overtaking the entire refrigerator.  Ah, but when it was good it was really good. It just didn’t last long enough.

Now it’s not as if Gaslight Anthem only dropped an album or two and then disappeared into the wilds of New Jersey. And they also didn’t overstay they’re welcome. They fall somewhere in between, having released five albums in between 2007 and 2014. That last album, Get Hurt, was generally perceived as okay. It wasn’t their best work, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of album that makes you wish the band would just kind of call it quits and then disappear into the wilds of New Jersey. Again, Gaslight Anthem fall somewhere in between the two.

In 2015 they announced they were going on indefinite hiatus, saying that they’d “like to recharge and take a step back until we have something we feel excited about rather than going right back to making a record just for the sake of making the next record,” the band wrote. “We all feel this is the best decision we can make and it feels like the right one for us.” With front-man Brian Fallon quickly falling into a solo career, it seemed like it could be the last we ever see of the New Jersey punk band who graciously counted Bruce Springsteen as one of their biggest fans. In a way, it seemed too soon for them to leave, but it was also somewhat understandable.

It was understandable because the truth is that the band had never really eclipsed the popularity they hit with their excellent second album The ’59 Sound. It’s tough when a band hits such a creative and commercial high so early in their career. It’s a mixed blessing basically. The good news is that there’s no shortage of doors that start to open, the stages and crowds get bigger and people like Springsteen start joining you onstage. The bad news however is that every album you release after is going to be judged up against that early hit. It’s certainly not the end all, be all for every band out there who hits a homer early on, but it can definitely become a dicey little ball and chain to drag along as you look to advance your career. So much of music talk is rooted in making comparisons. It’s a damn shame when the main comparison made with your work is something you did a few years ago. It can make it hard to move forward.

And just so we’re clear here, Gaslight didn’t follow up The ’59 Sound with a series of failed attempts at recapturing that album’s magic. Nor did they pull a Weezer and go off on cringe-worthy adventures in self-exploration and sound-experimentation, only to keep returning to the formula that made them the band they were and the band people fell in love with time and again, specifically after two or three albums that could best be described as “not good.” Nope. The two albums that followed The ’59 Sound might not have been the striking of gold that that particular album was, but they were still solid, earnest morsels of Americana punk rock, specifically 2012’s Handwritten, which is probably the band’s best album after The ’59 Sound. I also don’t think Get Hurt wasn’t the album that broke them so to speak, even though the heavy seriousness of the album’s vibe and sound could easily make you think that. I think when it comes to their hiatus, their statement says it all. It was time for a break.

When it comes to The ’59 Sound though, an album that is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year, a milestone that has prompted the band to get back together and play some shows, it really is one of those time capsule-like albums in that it’s endlessly endearing and practically bullet proof when it comes to getting sick of it. If you fell in love with it once, you never fall out of love with it. There’s something about the pace of it, the recklessness of it, the soaring and unbridled passion of it that never wears on you. Quite simply, it’s a damn near perfect rock ‘n roll record. Gaslight Anthem doesn’t look to reinvent rock music on it, only to put their own stamp on it; emulate their heroes and tell their own stories.

Sadly it seems like The ’59 Sound has kind of been drowned some in the rushing waters of music history. A song will be put up here and there and every so often, someone mentions it and with it, a flood of memories follow suit. This really is a damn shame, albeit a predictable one. It’s not like Gaslight Anthem are Pearl Jam; they never managed to create enough of a dent in the zeitgeist so as to avoid the perils of being forgotten and overlooked. There’s also just so much music out there, especially music in the middle – music that doesn’t become worthy of headlining a festival or taking home a Grammy, and that’s where Gaslight Anthem reached at their apex. But we can’t forget the music in the middle, the bands we loved for a few years and then inadvertently moved on from. We’ll obviously never forget Pearl Jam or even Weezer. But Gaslight Anthem can get forgotten though, and as time has passed, they kind of have been.

That could change this summer though, thanks to a few key festival gigs and a heart-warming, nostalgia tour full of gigs playing The ’59 Sound in it’s entirety. It’s a smart move by them and it’d be a smart move by anyone who has ever found themselves loudly singing along to one of their songs to go.

The middle is an unforgiving, cavernous chasm chalk full of bands that history has moved on from. Gaslight Anthem deserves to be rescued from the deep, brought back to life. Hopefully this summer they will be.



Categories: Music

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