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Jersey boys

From Sam Cooke to Bruce Springsteen, the Gaslight Anthem illuminates rock history


Meet the new boss: Fallon and his bandmates set out to make a new record that sounds old.
  • Meet the new boss: Fallon and his bandmates set out to make a new record that sounds old.

So much for the sophomore slump: From the opening faux vinyl scratches of "Great Expectations" to the closing thunder of "The Backseat," the Gaslight Anthem's second album, The '59 Sound, is a blast of old-meets-new sincerity. But the band seems to be taking both success and lofty comparisons in stride.

With his close-mouthed drawl and Fender Telecaster, lead singer Brian Fallon has grown especially accustomed to comparisons between himself and a certain New Jersey icon.

"I really love Bruce Springsteen, probably more than it's healthy for a man to," says Fallon, "but I'm an adult and I'm weird about it now."

One of the most criminally overlooked albums of 2008, The '59 Sound earned slow but steady recognition as music fans (and writers) grew to love the band's raw, rootsy, soulful and sweaty odes to young lust and old-time rock 'n roll. It's a sound that may be familiar to some, but according to Fallon, that's by design.

"If there wasn't all the music that we listened to growing up, then we wouldn't be here," says Fallon. "The good thing about music is that you can pretend to be anything you want."

What Fallon and company would like to be — and are, to a large extent — are purveyors of Springsteen's street-poet ethos and Joe Strummer's effortless cool. The fingerprints of both artists are all over the album, which acts as a love letter to the heyday of breathless, earnest and lifesaving rock 'n roll.

"We thought, 'Let's make an old record,'" says Fallon. "We wanted to put all of our love for that old music into our album."

The band, which started out a mere four blocks away from E Street (yes, that E Street) in New Brunswick, N.J., mixes Philadelphia soul with a streetwise rock sensibility. Somehow, it manages to draw upon 50-plus years of rock tradition in combinations that don't add up to the derivative experience you might logically expect. The genesis of the quartet's sound lies in late-night discussions about hypothetical music scenarios.

"What if the Clash was Roy Orbison's band — what would that sound like?" asks Fallon. "We wondered, 'What if the E Street Band didn't have horns or keyboards?' We wanted to know what these bands would do, and the sound people hear is the sound of what we think it would be like."

Despite a reverence for all of rock 'n roll history, from Sam Cooke to Against Me!, the influence that keeps getting noticed is the guy with whom Fallon shared a ZIP code all those years ago.

"I almost feel like all of the other influences we have got overlooked," he says. "Why is nobody talking about Roy Orbison or Van Morrison or Joe Strummer and stuff like that?"

But those questions will wait to be answered another day. For now, the Gaslight Anthem is too busy impressing audiences on its seemingly endless tour. All of which allows Fallon to be cheerfully philosophical about those recurring Springsteen comparisons.

"Who am I kidding — my mom raised me on Cheerios and Born to Run," he says. "I had no choice."

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