Most debut albums are not anticipated by many, as normally artists have not gained a substantial amount of followers yet. Thus, removing one of the many pressures artists have to deal with, but not with this debut album as Brian Fallon has already got a considerable fan base as he is the frontman of the New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem.
Last summer the band announced an indefinite hiatus after a nine year period which saw five studio album releases, including their critically acclaimed album The ‘59 Sound. Brian Fallon began writing Painkillers before The Gaslight Anthem last album Get Hurt. Following the band’s last tour date, Fallon went in a Nashville studio to record Painkillers with producer Butch Walker.
“A Wonderful Life” commences with penetrating drumming and guitar riffs resembling The River-era Springsteen. The song has the narrator asking the female for some form of companionship. The chorus “I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life”, emphasising the point of living life to its fullest and there is this sense of romanticism, escapism and youth. In the optimistic spirit like the song, you could imagine the pair together with the night still young, at a shore in New Jersey.
The sophomore song “Painkillers” sees Fallon using the title of the song as metaphor to suggest love is like a painkiller, relieving use from our painful daily lives. The electric guitars could be higher in the mix particularly in the choruses but the catchiness and the backing vocals are effective.
“Among Other Foolish Things” is the highlight of the album. This upbeat song has great storytelling with detail writing like “We spin ’round like records in the apartment, You still remind me of Marianne Faithfull, Lookin’ like a picture taken outta the ’60s”. It really captures the essence of reminiscing about previous times with a loved one whilst it makes the song a personal account rather than a generic love song.
Even with each composition fitting into a similar pattern, there is variation to the style and sound of the pieces. Fallon has departed from his past punk rock oriented ways to transform into this insightful singer-songwriter with lyrics projecting out past memories and dissatisfaction of the current situation. Furthermore, with sweeping sounds of alternative country, folk, heartland rock to fit as the soundtrack to his stories which are about love and past relationships.
When Fallon does slow the tempo down with his acoustic guitar fingerpicking style on “Steve McQueen”, he is as absorbing as the up-tempo songs. The subtle snare drumming, the slight reverb on the electric guitars and the spasmodic piano line are all layered around the acoustic guitar with Fallon’s tender lead vocals. Even when Fallon reverts back to familiar sound of The Gaslight Anthem on “Rosemary”, there is this freshness and diversity to his song writing.
On the eagles-esque “Long Drives”, Fallon references song titles in his lyrics such as Van Morrison “Into The Mystic” and Roy Hawkins “The Thrill Is Gone” albeit swapping is with was to fit it into the narrative. Also on “Honey Magnolia”, Fallon references Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” and James Brown “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, while some lyrics share similar lines to Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing In The Street”.
The ending of the album is acoustic folk number “Open All Night”. On the surface it sounds like the narrator has accepted his new position of being free and is moving on from his previous relationship which would seem a fitting way to end the album on a positive note.
Nevertheless, it is not a confident goodbye as he has strong visceral reaction after thinking about their time spent together. “Back when local bars and your crooked heart was my home, mmhmm…” and the last line of the album makes the doubt apparent, “but I held you, babe, a long, long time ago, and we were open all night long”. Also, we cannot end without mentioning some more references. The song title is also a Bruce Springsteen song title and Fallon references Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” in the first verse.
Overall, Fallon wears his influences on his sleeves and that is not complaint. Who would not like hearing hints of greats within the younger generation’s music of today? Putting the musical influences aside, Fallon has his own aesthetic and sound which he has formulated into being this wonderful album. It is consistent, enjoyable and certainly cathartic for those who might have had a recent breakup.
Brian Fallon’s Painkillers is out now via Island Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Jack Walters