Brian Fallon made a name for himself as the frontman of The Gaslight Anthem. After nine years, five albums, and growing larger than ever predicted, the band went on a hiatus. Along the way, he had a side-project, The Horrible Crowes, which released one album, Elsie. In 2016, a few months after Gaslight’s final show, Fallon released his first solo album, Painkillers. Despite a 10 year anniversary tour of The ’59 Sound, it doesn’t look like they’ll be back in the studio anytime soon. The point of this history lesson is, throughout all of this, he’s been “Brian from the Gaslight Anthem.” Sleepwalkers is the first time it’s really been just him. No side-project, no “of Gaslight,” no debut, none of that. This is Brian Fallon.
The first thing I noticed with this album is the production. There’s just something about Brain Fallon and Ted Hutt. They bring out the best in each other. Hutt, who produced The ’59 Sound, American Slang, and Elsie, brings new life to Fallon’s signature style. They double down on the classic pop sound that appeared a little on Painkillers and throw in a dash of jazz, blues, and R&B. Fallon and company don’t leave as much empty space this time around. Every corner is filled with some little interesting nugget. It’s a cathartic record best heard by day on an open road and in your room, alone at night.
In a recent interview, he talked about having a new outlook on life, about taking the positive and running with it. You see that message throughout Sleepwalkers, and “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven,” the record’s second single, wonderfully introduces us to the record. It kicks off with a catchy guitar motif, leading into Motown style backing vocals. It’s a fun opener, made complete by its sing-along chorus. The first verse absolves to leave the bad in the past and focus on the good. It’s an anthem to move on from the troubled past in favor of a brighter future, a message we could all use these days.
The classic vibes press on with the lead single, “Forget Me Not.” The romantic lyrics are exactly what you’d expect from Fallon, and the organ, found throughout most of the record, perfectly complements the aesthetic. It has a nostalgic sound, an earworm of a chorus, and a cool, clap-led break in the middle of the second verse. There’s a black and white music video to accompany the song; a concert-style video that fits well with the song. If nothing else, it sounds like some of the most fun Fallon has had in years.
“Come Wander With Me” is a walk through Fallon’s life. It’s a personal song about his youth, akin to “Keepsake” off Gaslight’s Handwritten. At the same time, it’s like a journey through his growth as a musician. There are little moments of familiarity, like the build-up to the final chorus or the backing vocals in the track’s closing moments. Still, the sprawling, escapist chorus is unlike anything he’s done before. These choruses are a bit of a trend. His ability for crafting the right melody to fit his sound has always been a strong suit of his but he’s outdone himself this time around. On paper, the reference heavy chorus of “Her Majesty’s Service,” doesn’t seem to work at all. But listening to the track, you have to appreciate how he managed to arrange this one.
“You always believed there was some kind of diamond in me.”
Elsie was a side-project of material that didn’t fit Gaslight. When Painkillers came out, I think a lot of people were expecting something similar to that. Instead, Fallon channeled Americana with his first solo-record, making for a great album in its own right. For as much classic pop and R&B influence exists on Sleepwalkers, it’s also a worthy follow-up to Elsie. “Etta James” and “Neptune” stick out as a pair of songs that signify the style of Elsie. The howling chorus of “Etta James” brings back memories of chills from listening to “Blood Loss” and “Go Tell Everybody”. “Neptune” talks of the time “spent chasing them Ferris wheels,” and is largely a song about looking back at the past while still moving forward. With its beaming pop sensibilities, uncharacteristic long guitar solo, it’s almost a sendoff to Gaslight, now that he feels confident enough to do so.
“We sold our souls on the fantasies we found in records and black and white movies”
Fallon has never shied from talking about the blues. We get two of his heaviest blues riffs here with “Little Nightmares” and “My Name is the Night (Color Me Black).” “Little Nightmares” makes lovely use of jazzy organs. It’s beautifully produced, with a folksy walk-down in the background of the chorus. But it’s the tempo change leading into the chorus that ropes you into this one. It’s another song about coping with doubt and anxiety and fighting back the negative thoughts in your head. “My Name is the Night” is drenched in classic rock vibes, led by a heavily distorted blues riff. Definitely not something we’ve ever heard from him before.
The title track is smooth. I never thought about it until the moment the song started but man, why hasn’t Fallon utilized brass instruments before? The horns and organ have such a vintage feel on this song. The melody of the intro, the way the horns creep in to kick off the grooving chorus; this is Fallon at his absolute best. There is no better representation of the album than this track, especially when he speaks of learning to “sit with his demons.”
“If I go down, Lily, I’m going down believing.”
He gives us two slower tracks, the breezy “Proof of Life,” and the heartfelt closer, “See You On the Other Side.” The rhythm of the chorus on “Proof of Life” doesn’t work for me but it has potential to be a grower. It’s a nice change of pace near the middle of the record. The backing instrumentation is interesting and works well within the context of the album. It’s definitely more musically interesting than some of his other slow songs. It’s one of those songs you may not play much by itself but you’ll never skip when you spin the album. “See You on the Other Side” is optimistic and romantic. It’s a calm and sobering finish, almost like the other side of the coin when compared to Painkiller’s closer, “Open All Night.”
If you’re coming into Sleepwalkers already a fan, then you largely know what to expect. There are a lot of slight stylistic changes, but he’s kept his structure largely the same and his lyrics are top-notch, as always. Painkillers spoke to me as a record about coping. Regardless of tone, the songs were largely about the past and how we deal. Sleepwalkers, while just as nostalgic and full of romanticism as all of Fallon’s work, doesn’t quite linger in the past. He’s still looking back, but now he’s only shooting glances around his shoulder as he keeps moving forward.