It's kinda comical, especially for someone who actually lived through and remembers that decade, to see how in vogue and "influential" the '80s currently seem to be. Truth is, however, thanks to the advent of MTV (and image becoming more crucial than the music), among other elements, there was a great deal of shit that came out during the '80s. Of course, the band KISS has proved that if something sticks around long enough, it'll eventually garner some begrudging critical respect. But here's a hint for you, kids: Regardless of whether you're coming from an "ironic" standpoint or not, A Flock of Seagulls sucked in the 1980s ... and they still suck today.
Not everything sucked in the '80s, though, and Brian Fallon, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter of New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem, has latched onto some of the great rock music elements from that era, incorporating it into his band's "Jersey shore" sound. They may be on a punk rock label but they're only "punk" in the classic sense of the term. Throughout the disc, one can hear strong traces of the Replacements (Fallon sounds so much like Westerberg when he sings "always waiting for something to happen" on "Great Expectations," the album's opening track, that it's uncanny), the Clash, lesser-known acts like the Iron City Houserockers, Tom Petty and, especially, Jersey's patron saint, Bruce Springsteen. In fact, perhaps just a tad too much Springsteen; the lyrics to the wonderful "Meet Me by the River's Edge" include the line "No surrender, my Bobby Jean," merging the titles of two tracks from Born in the U.S.A. without the slightest trace of irony. Overall, though, Fallon is a terrific lyricist, creating great Americana imagery ("Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand/I always kinda, sorta wished I looked like Elvis" he sings on "High Lonesome") and also coming up with excellent song titles ("Miles Davis & the Cool" is just one). And "Here's Looking at You, Kid" is one of the prettiest and saddest reflections on an unrequited lover in recent memory.
The album kicks off with the sound of scratchy vinyl to show where these guys are coming from — and only the lo-fi production might be viewed as a flaw. Sex Pistol Steve Jones recently argued on his L.A. radio show that one needs to be in his 40s to play real rock 'n' roll these days. Don't know I necessarily subscribe to that philosophy — but Fallon and his band definitely prove that it sure isn't true in all cases.
The Gaslight Anthem plays Sunday, Nov. 23, at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].