The Gaslight Anthem – Sink Or Swim

Emo noir! For about five seconds you’ll think you’re in for some blues-rockin’, but then the drums kick in and a pop-punkin’ good time full of thinking about old loves and romanticizing the ocean and the feels of twenty-somethings, with neat-o titles to make it seem like they have a sense of humour about themselves.

This is all pretty standard stuff, and there’s nothing revelatory to be found in these 37 minutes, but a few things combine to make it a fun trip: first, there’s Mr. Anthem’ Brian Fallon’s grizzly voice that sounds like it comes from the beard Bruce Springsteen never grew. He can emote without whining and scream without sounding angstified, and all the talk of old friends is much better for the gravitas of an gruff old guy singing it. Then there’s the lyrical focus: there’s some maturity and nostalgia going on here and very little open misery. Again, this is good! It means you don’t want to throw the songs out of your apartment window, even when the lyrics get a bit maudlin. The chord changes and emo arpeggios are unremarkable enough, but the songs never linger too long on an uninspiring phrase. There aren’t any killer riffs, but this is just a solid debut, and a crooked little river of “quite good” is more than enough considering there’s nothing execrable (except maybe the stupid intro to “Red in the Morning”). There’s even a couple nice acoustic folksy numbers to mix things up, and they’re also pretty swell.

Really, this is an early Tom Waits world viewed through the ol’ modern tight pants prism, and what’s wrong with that? It’s all leather jackets and nights out on the town and long drives at night with a flawed but cute boy. Sure, in the time the guys would seemingly like to live in they’d all have factory jobs and unplanned kids by now, but shit, this is the 21st century and I think it’s great that 25 year-olds still have the chance to spend a spare Thursday afternoon getting drunk and watching American Horror Story. Plus, there’s a tribute to Joe Strummer! Who would just throw that in there? Whom, I ask you? It takes some parsing to know what the title “I’da Called You Woody, Joe” means, but when you get it: boners!

In summary: these guys have a solid grasp on their feely things and their musical things, and that’s pretty remarkable for a bunch of tuffs. I’m not sure if Brian Fallon would make a good boyfriend, but it’s easy to see what a lost soul would see in him. We should be so lucky to live a teenage romance with the eyes of grown-ups. I was discussing the phrase “youth is wasted on the young” with my girlfriend the other night, and I had this defense: we’re fortunate now to be young enough to still be youngish and realize how good we have it before it’s over, and it will be, soon. Relationships are important, but they’re inherently nostalgic because every one we have is likely to end in loss, longing, and a hollow feeling in our gut. And that’s okay – we’re reproduction machines, not happiness machines. So let’s have bonfires and shit. And write story songs about it, I guess. Whatever, I get on some pretentious tears sometimes and I apologize for that.

Oh, also, the voice of the narrator in these songs doesn’t like to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. This continues throughout the career, so if that’s a dealbreaker for you then get out now. That and some cliches are unfortunate, but can you really deny the funstalgia of “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” and

1930″? No, no you can not. And the folk songs are well done as well.

7 / 10

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