The Gaslight Anthem frontman returns with his glorious second album.
Self-confessed Tom Petty fanboy and martyr for the classic sound, Brian Fallon, has finished his second solo album, following on effortlessly from 2016’s Painkillers. Sleepwalkers picks up perfectly where Painkillers left off, whilst patching up the flaws.
When the frontman of any band pursues a solo career, huge risks are involved. Does one attempt to re-create the known sound of his group under his own name, or journey so far from the sound that we all know, potentially alienating fans? Fallon has somehow struck a fine balance. His solo work channels the gravelled, heartfelt voice which permeated through The Gaslight Anthems records, but this time it’s so much more personal. You can just tell that these words mean the world.
Sleepwalkers opens with a rousing folk-rock song, If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven. The opening lines of the album “I’m packing up // I gotta move // I’m gonna blow a fifty foot hole through the dark clouds in my room” tell us what this album is all about. Whilst Fallon’s career has ridden on melancholy-tinged nostalgia, this new release is an attempt to embrace the brighter side of life. The fun, hoppy guitar line that accompanies Brian’s claims that he’s gonna “whip these blues away” encapsulates this decision. This is a new chapter; it’s got all the same ingredients as his previous endeavours, with just a little drop of sunshine poured in for good measure.
The first single released from the album follows, Forget Me Not. This track sounds like it could have come straight off of 2016’s Painkillers, with a slightly more polished feel to the sound. Again, catchy lyrics walk the tightrope between poetry and cheese, with the almost-clichéd metaphors flowing through every line. If you aren’t a fan of the tried and tested metaphors, ideals and concepts found in records by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Matchbox Twenty, you’ll have already realised this album isn’t for you. “Playing melancholy songs that somehow made us feel a whole lot better” is the motif throughout this album. This record feels like a trip through back in time, telling the listener that it’s still okay to find joy in the classic heartbreak songs, no matter how out of fashion they may seem. Fallon fights to remind us to look for the beautiful in the melancholy.
The guitar tones on this album vary greatly from those on Fallon’s debut release, with songs such as Come Wander With Me and My Name Is The Night incorporating gorgeous funk influences. Whilst the sound varies on this album, from Acoustic to Folk to Funk Rock, Fallon’s vocal performance remains consistent, creating a strong sense of his voice feeling like home. As soon as each line begins, you find yourself enveloped in the same voice, metaphors and feelings Fallon shows us. It feels as though we are being asked to step into Fallon’s broken, yet somehow optimistic soul as he literally asks us to “Come wander with me”.
This release embraces the concept of a ballad in a more obvious way than the previous record. ‘Etta James’ and ‘Watson’ provide a beautiful, poetic homage to the ballads of old. “We sold our souls on a fantasy we found on records and in black and white movies” sums up everything about Brian Fallon. A man trapped in the ‘good old days’ where all that mattered was pursuing an unobtainable fairy-tale love.
If you needed any more convincing that The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) is Fallon’s greatest influence, look no further than the title track. A saxophone seductively pulls us into this retro tune, and if you ignore the year 2018 stamped in the album, you feel as though you’re listening to a tune released in the late 70s. As one of the many standout tracks on this album (Fallon simply doesn’t write fillers), Sleepwalkers oozes class, style and groove.
The only flaw of Brian’s debut release was, if we are being really picky, the lack of musical arc. Every song felt as though it was a different way of exploring the messages in the song before, with the album almost blurring into one. On Sleepwalkers, however, there is a huge variety in sound and feeling amongst the tracks. This creates a far more whole, complete record. Brian Fallon is like a fine wine, as he matures so does his craft, and he further perfects his unique flavour. Fallon knows that when the recipe is right, don’t mess with it, just make it with fresh ingredients.
There is nothing clever about this album, no hidden messages or subliminal ideas. This is simply a homage to a glorious era of rock’n’roll. Grab a beer, find yourself a spot in the sun, and let Brian Fallon carry you back in time to when life was simple.