Put Up Your Dukes: The Gaslight Anthem

gasligh550Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: the Gaslight Anthem. Put up your dukes!

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

I couldn’t help but notice that the Gaslight Anthem‘s The 59 Sound topped many critics’ and readers’ lists in 2008, but I ask you: Has there been a more egregious example of clichéd bombast (or is that bombastic cliché?) in recent memory? With its overly earnest delivery and hackneyed ’50s imagery, this steaming pile could be the soundtrack to a really bad high-school production of West Side Story. Other than those with a penchant for ducktail haircuts, leather jackets and Springsteen’s worst musical and lyrical tendencies, to whom, exactly, is this record appealing?

“Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” (download):

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From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

I can assure you the Gaslight Anthem is no more bombastic or clichéd than My Morning Jacket or My Chemical Romance. And, really, let’s not play the “they don’t sound original enough!” card. This isn’t jazz. What’s most interesting about your opening argument is your mention of West Side Story: I think some of the best rock records in recent years have sounded like Broadway musicals: Against Me!’s New Wave, the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday, Green Day’s American Idiot. To be clear, I’m not talking about concept albums: These records have distinct stage-friendly moments of (to use your word) bombast. I don’t know if The ‘59 Sound is quite at the same level of theatricality—the songs do have a working-class Jersey backdrop, and frontman Brian Fallon is earnest in a good way—but what’s not to like? You probably don’t like ABBA, either.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Good lord, a MAGNET editor is name checking My Chemical Romance. Is this a sign of the apocalypse? Or have you just regressed to 13 years old? In any event, I won’t go too far down the path with that originality argument, what with rock ‘n’ roll being 60 years old, give or take a decade. To pick up on your American Idiot example, however, how many punk-rock operas can you name? And when you listen to Green Day, what band do you think of? Probably, you think of Green Day. The Gaslight Anthem, meanwhile, has abandoned any kind of unique identity in favor of aping the E Street Band. Look, I’m not going to argue this point too vociferously, as I like a lot of artists that could be accused of being derivative (the Black Lips and Jay Reatard come to mind). If I’m being completely honest here, I simply don’t like Bruce Springsteen. He’s a middling guitar player and sings like he’s trying to pass a kidney stone. The fact that I don’t dig the Boss makes it very difficult to enjoy the Gaslight Anthem. As a side note, while we’re slaughtering sacred cows here, I’ve given Against Me! and the Hold Steady many chances in an attempt to “get it” but finally came to the conclusion that they’re vastly overrated. As for ABBA, shit, I don’t know what to do with that one.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
I think we’re making progress here. This is like regression therapy for you; you’re finally coming to terms with your Boss issues. This must’ve been festering like a sore since the ‘80s. I know you’re a Steelers fan—was the Super Bowl bittersweet? It would seem I’m faced with the task of trying to make you like something that’s derivative of something else you don’t like. (Newsflash: If you’re not an ABBA fan, you might not like Mamma Mia!) But in all seriousness, if you take away the Gaslight Anthem’s denim jackets and Jersey driver’s licenses, how much does The ‘59 Sound really sound like Born To Run? Not much. I hear some mid-period Replacements. I hear a group of guys who grew up on ’90s hardcore and, in particular, more melodic stuff like Lifetime and Knapsack. The tempo alone is faster than anything the E Street Band is capable of. So you’re going to have to dig deeper than Springsteen to find this album’s flaws. I’ll even give you a four-word head start: “Dicky Barrett guest vocal.”

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
The only thing bittersweet about the Super Bowl is that I skipped the halftime show and missed Springsteen’s failed knee slide. I agree that you’re fighting an uphill battle here. Trust me, if I could play Gaslight and hear echoes of the Replacements or Knapsack—bands I love—we wouldn’t be having this debate. I just don’t hear anything sonically or lyrically to make the connection. Here’s a test. Read each of these lyrical snippets and have a mirror at the ready:

“But it’s past a quarter to three/And it’s past the midnight hour/Mustang Sally’s left the building/And we’re so much worse without her”

“Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes/Hurry up, hurry up/Ain’t you had enough of this stuff?/Ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes”

Which lines caused an involuntary rolling of your eyes? Yeah, that’s Gaslight.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
I’ll play your game, gamemaster. I just emailed these lyrics to our interns, assuming they won’t recognize a Replacements lyric when they see one. (No offense, interns; I don t know many 20-year-olds who are wild about Westerberg.) They’ll have four options: a) the first lyric is clearly better; b) the second lyric is clearly better; c) both kind of suck; and d) both are pretty good. I’ll let you know the results in my next email; the interns are on spring break and are probably getting tattoos (just kidding, parents!) instead of checking email. What I hope to prove is that it isn’t as clear-cut as you think it is. The Replacements were a cool band in your youth, and the Gaslight Anthem is a cool band in someone else’s. Given the music marketed to teens and the bands playing the all-ages circuit, isn’t the Gaslight Anthem a huge improvement over some overly pierced, eyeliner-wearing steampunk band?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
As the Amplified columnist, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have no idea what “steampunk” means. Do band members in this genre shoot vaporized water from their assholes? If you’re asking me if the Gaslight Anthem is better than your typical Alternative Press cover band, well, yes, I would definitely agree with that. (Talk about damning with faint praise.) In any event, since the implication here is that I don’t understand “the kids” and their music, I’ll anxiously await the results of your informal poll, and agree to abide by the results.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
The results are in. Four interns responded (the fifth intern is following the Phish tour with some friends she met at Burning Man), and it’s a tie. One preferred Gaslight’s lyrics, one preferred the Mats, and two were nonplussed altogether. Exact quote: “Neither. I had to avert my eyes.” Tough crowd. But you’re right—I shouldn’t have lowered the bar or made it an age-appropriate question. I have some CDs right in front of me (Obits, the Thermals, Mannequin Men) that blow the doors off The ‘59 Sound. But those bands are fully formed. Come back and kick me in the nuts in four years, but the Gaslight Anthem has a lot of potential. I think that’s why they got attention. Or maybe nobody wants to see 50-year-old Mike Ness in his wifebeater T-shirt anymore, trotting out Social Distortion for some blue-collar punk glory. Let’s hasten that retirement. I’m not talking to you about steampunk, by the way.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Godamned junior interns and their inconclusive poll results. Get off my lawn, you punks! Sorry, I had a senior moment there, as I’m closer to Mike Ness’ age (he’s 46, by the way) than to your mailroom lackeys’ generation. Obviously my (our) over-the-top protestations are often for effect here, and if I’m being honest, I can get behind the fact that the Gaslight Anthem plays rock ‘n’ roll with punk underpinnings. And yes, they are preferable to mall punk. On the other hand, they pale in comparison to the Thermals, to use your example. I guess for now, I’ll take your wait-and-see approach with regard to Gaslight’s potential, and I’ll see you in four years. In the meantime, I’ll be saving up for a nice pair of steel-toed boots.

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8 Comments

  1. Chris
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    i stopped reading at this moronic take:
    I simply don’t like Bruce Springsteen. He’s a middling guitar player and sings like he’s trying to pass a kidney stone.

  2. Posted March 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    That flippant slag of Bruce turn this “debate” into contrived silly time, nothing more constructive. I’m not a Springsteen addict (a fan, at best), but I do realize that comparing journeymen to upstarts is pointless and overdone, as the jury ain’t out yet. I think that a Springsteen versus Mats comparison would have been a lot more fun, as you’d have complete bodies of work to bitch and gripe about. And I agree with the above post, singing like you give a shit is nothing to be ashamed of, and I think that Bruce’s pedigree isn’t the stuff of Michael Bolton. Can we at least agree on that??

  3. Cyndi
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    this was hilar! esp the steampunk part, and the interns parts. not interns’ parts.

  4. Posted March 22, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Who cares about a cliché?
    Who cares about the taste of others?
    Make up your own mind.
    I liked their show and I like their record.

  5. Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Ryan- these guys sound like complete cartoons.

  6. Greg
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    While I see the Springsteen comparison, I think sonically the Gaslight Anthem is much closer to the Gin Blossoms than anything Springsteen (or punk, for that matter). Then I again, I like both the Gaslight Anthem and the Gin Blossoms, so what do I know?

  7. Posted March 30, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    You know what you like Greg, and there’s no harm in that. Other then a few artists (Interpol???) that deserve to be skewered at every turn, there’s certainly no right or wrong in pop land.

  8. geo k
    Posted April 13, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Man, these e mailed Magnet articles are excellent. Love the over/under series and this argument over the merits of a band I never heard of. Seriously, publishing opinions that damn various bands and artists actually promotes interest in their music. It’s like Creem magazine in the early seventies with Lester Bangs and crew skewering rock icons and holding Lou Reed’s feet to the fire. NO offense, but these articles are more entertaining than what is published in the actual Magnet magazine.