Brian Fallon

Sleepwalkers

Written by: MIN on 24/02/2018 19:57:09

Although Brian Fallon’s backing band changes name like the rest of us change our socks, the former Gaslight Anthem frontman still manages to sound like himself with slight variations from record to record. On his second solo album, “Sleepwalkers”, Fallon (accompanied by the Howling Weather) is still dreaming about the days of yore and life portrayed in Hollywood’s big pictures, all the while making references to Joe Strummer and the Rolling Stones. However, as promised by Fallon prior to the release of the album, most songs on “Sleepwalkers” are largely expanded in orchestration when compared to the more stripped down overweight on his previous album, ”Painkillers”. Fallon aimed to write songs that are more suited for a live setting, and although this initially sounds commendable, it’s actually a shame; songs are supposed to be great on their own, and then it’s the artist’s job to convey them properly live.

“Painkillers” succeeded largely by virtue of its naked honesty; mostly country-tinged folk-rock songs that excelled in song-writing and delivery. Therefore, Fallon’s statement obviously made me a bit anxious, as I felt that he’d found a formula as a solo artist that perfectly suited him after having released the least worthwhile album of his career with Gaslight Anthem’s ”Get Hurt”. However, if the guy’s capable of effectively changing his sound once (well, twice, if you count 2011’s underrated album ”Elsie” by the Horrible Crowes), then why not again? Although I actually was sorely let down by “Sleepwalkers” upon my first sit-through, further listening revealed some excellent melodies here and there.

The album’s real highlight is also the first standout song to reveal itself, the passionate “Etta James”. This slow-burning ballade sees Brian Fallon depicting his former dependency on finding happiness through his favorite records – a feeling all too familiar to most of us – until he finds it in another person: ”Now Etta James, hit that symphony! // Cause she drips through my blood like a remedy // And for most of my sad life I figured I was going to die alone”. Understandably, Fallon’s voice doesn’t have the urgency it contained during the Gaslight Anthem’s first few (and much more punk) albums, but now and then you can feel that coarse, gritty howl force itself out of him from all the way down his guts, as is the case in this particular song. As a strong contrast to, and yet natural continuation of, Ian Perkins’ atmospheric guitar-picking, which sets the mood of the entire song, Fallon’s vocals during the chorus stands out as one of the most impressive moments in his solo career; a point in which soul searching and pure prowess culminates in a cleansing climax by each passing chorus. Structurally, we’ve surely heard all of this before, but the delivery makes up for the lack of originality.

Thankfully, “Etta James” isn’t the only choice-cut among the album’s twelve songs. The stomping, up-beat folk, infectious chorus and tongue-in-cheek nature of “Forget Me Not” provides a quick pick-me-up for whenever you’re feeling blue, and the rocking “My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)” is, despite its awkward title, wonderfully straightforward on an album that, unfortunately, contains too many bewildering elements. All too often, Fallon’s ambitions get the best of him, especially evident in his over-enthusiastic use of organs: songs, in which the guitar didn’t actually need a boost, all too often get a repetitive set of organ chords thrown on top, adding an unnecessary, messy element to an otherwise streamlined song (“Little Nightmares” suffers from it, whereas “Neptune” is a mess altogether).

After having heard “Sleepwalkers” several times, it’s hard not to miss the bountiful collection of songs found on “Painkillers”, but as evidenced above, it’s not a record without its merits. Maybe if the 50-minute ordeal had been cut short by ten minutes or Fallon hadn’t taken a shot at everything from Motown to folk-gone-stadium (if album-closer “”See You on the Other Side” had been cut by a minute and a half, you’d have a nice short acoustic), the record would’ve received a higher rating, but “Sleepwalkers” is ultimately too much of a directionless mess to figure out, carrying too many grand gestures and rehashed ideas. Those issues aside, Fallon ultimately manages to provide the listener with some compelling stories and passionate deliveries.

6

Download: Forget Me Not, Etta James, My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)
For The Fans Of: Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Brandon Flowers, Tom Petty, The Horrible Crowes, Bruce Springsteen
Listen: Facebook

Release date 09.02.2018
Island Records


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