Release Date: Mar 11, 2016
Record label: Island
Review Summary: While there are no surprises, it's a record that Fallon absolutely needed to write and record for his own sake. Sometimes, when people are feeling down-and-out, they don't need help or solutions or stare down an unanswerable "You know what you should do?" question -- especially when the inquirer has a pre-loaded solution. In times like these, perhaps they just need empathy.
Here's our verdict on the debut solo outing from The Gaslight Anthem mainman. For a band whose songs were famous for their fire and life, romance and redemption, it was hard watching The Gaslight Anthem become ever more jaded; culminating in the virtual flatline of 2014’s ‘Get Hurt’. Last summer’s hiatus was a smart move and on frontman Brian Fallon’s first solo foray since, it’s heartening to see some of the old spark present and correct.In the main, ‘Painkillers’ sounds like the work of a man who’s learned how to smile again – from the opening, optimistic stomp of ‘A Wonderful Life’ to the barroom hoedown of ‘Smoke’.
The solo debut from the moonshine-voiced Gaslight Anthem frontman, Painkillers sees Brian Fallon holding true to his Jersey punk roots, while establishing himself as a top-tier songwriter in the increasingly crowded pantheon of indie-Americana scenemakers. Always a deft lyricist, with Painkillers, Fallon has proved that he can hold his own with open-road, roots rock bards like Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), Josh Ritter, and Jason Isbell. Spirited, glockenspiel-hammered opener "A Wonderful Life" does little to dispel the oft-cited Springsteen comparisons that have both dogged and helped Fallon throughout the years, but the contemplative title track that follows introduces a more nuanced take on blue collar heartache that, for the most part, extends through to the remaining 11 tracks.
For fans of the Gaslight Anthem, it's hard not to speculate on what singer Brian Fallon's solo debut will mean for the band they love. Successful solo projects frequently spell doom for the beloved group whence the soloist came, so it's probably tempting to enjoy this debut, Painkillers, with a caveat: It's good, but it's not Gaslight Anthem good.Still, taken in or out of context, this is a damn good record. Fallon's songwriting is warm and varied, and there's more soul and character in his voice than ever before.
After spending a decade singing openhearted confessionals as the frontman of New Jersey punks Gaslight Anthem, gravel-voiced Brian Fallon is turning down his amp for a solo debut full of acoustic ballads and midtempo alt-country songs. Fallon references heroes like James Brown and Van Morrison as he transforms rough old memories "from a long, long time ago" into communal punk-folk therapy. For a guy whose songs have always traded in the pains and pleasures of nostalgia, the Fallon of Painkillers seems to have arrived at a newfound, forward-looking clarity.
If Brian Fallon carries a talisman around in the pocket of his denim jacket, it’s probably a busted rear-view mirror torn off the windshield of the car he borrowed to joyride up and down the Jersey Coast when he was 17. No songwriter in modern rock music spends more time looking backwards. At various points on Fallon’s first proper solo album, Painkillers, he waxes poetic about being “beaten to death with regret,” drives around with old pictures plastered to his dashboard, or just sits inside a standard white apartment that reflects his present state of mind: “undecorated.
In the last decade, Brian Fallon’s Springsteen-inspired band The Gaslight Anthem became one of punk’s most popular acts. At Gaslight’s peak, Fallon started a indie-rock band called The Horrible Crowes inspired by PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, playing only a few shows. Now with Gaslight currently on hiatus, he’s released his first official solo album, Painkillers.
His obsession with Hollywood’s glory days also seeps through in ‘Steve McQueen’, a softly shuffling tribute to his hotshot hero. The piano-led ‘Honey Magnolia’ ploughs an equally sensitive path, with Fallon’s husky Marlboro Reds-infused croak rendered a near whisper as he fans the dying embers of a relationship. It’s not all rough-hewn campfire balladry however.
Gaslight Anthem frontman steps up to the next level with his debut solo album. To Brian Fallon’s obvious irritation, comparisons between his band the Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen have followed him around like a particularly enthusiastic and needy puppy since TGA emerged from The Boss’s home state of New Jersey a decade ago. So, with his band on “indefinite hiatus”, how does he introduce his solo debut to the world? With an opening title track that is so Springsteen-inflected, you have to wonder if, secretly, he’s taking the piss.