The Gaslight Anthem’s debut album Sink or Swim hit shelves in 2007 and is one for every rock fan to enjoy. It is the perfect introductory album for the band, showing the world what they’re about and the potential they possess. Like many, I first became a fan of the New Jersey quartet after hearing the outrageously catchy 45 from their 2012 album Handwritten. Since then I threw myself into their music, making my way back through their discography and finding all the gems I’d missed over the years.
Being a very private person, you won’t see Brian Fallon saying much about his personal life in interviews but he puts his heart and soul into his songs, resulting in collections which are relatable to many people. The Gaslight Anthem have an honest way about them which makes every song sound believable and genuine. Their honest storytelling and rough-around-the-edges style of rock and roll music has drawn them many comparisons to the legendary Bruce Springsteen (along with the fact that they’re both from NJ). The boys, in particular Brian Fallon, have listed Springsteen as one of their main influences and pay tribute to The Boss in several lyrical references to him and his music throughout their catalogue of tunes.
From the first guitar notes of Boomboxes and Dictionaries, it is clear that these boys are all about classic, simple rock and roll and meaningful lyrics. Front-man Brian Fallon comes in with his rough, almost husky voice singing his story-like lyrics.
The first few songs are upbeat, punchy and full of enthusiasm and electric guitars. We Came to Dance is one of the highlights of the album with its infectious riffs and the effective blending of each instrument. As the name may suggest, this is one of the Gaslight Anthem songs most likely to get you up and dancing along.
We Came to Dance blends into the furious opening riff of 1930, another electric-guitar heavy track full of energy from start to finish, before things slow right down with The Navesink Banks. The acoustic based tune showcases Brian Fallon’s unique and somewhat soothing voice and lyrical talent as he paints a picture with his words (“And I spent time ‘neath the trestles/With the punks and the dime store saints/Kept faith and a switchblade stuffed beneath my coat./And I ran with dirty angels, slept out in the rain/We were scared and tired and barely 17”).
The electric guitars and rock and roll enthusiasm comes back swinging with the aggressive Red in the Morning before simmering down slightly with the cool and catchy I’da Called You Woody, Joe. The aggression seen in some of the previous tracks appears again in We’re Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner as Fallon uses his raw, rough voice over the top of some heavy guitar and drumming which slows down towards the end as Fallon is backed up by the other members in repeating “It’s alright, man/ I’m only bleeding, man/Stay hungry, stay free and do the best you can”.
The acoustic guitar makes another appearance for the final song Red at Night, accompanied this time by a good old fashioned harmonica. This is a classic style acoustic folk tune almost reminiscent of a Bob Dylan track from years ago as Brian shows off how well his voice is suited to this type of song.
Sink or Swim is a perfect introduction to The Gaslight Anthem. Whether you’ve been a fan of their newer material or are a fan of classic rock & roll music but never listened to them before (Go download and listen to their music now! Trust me!), you will likely enjoy this record. And if you’re a really super awesome person you may even love it!