It doesn’t feel like it’s been a decade since The Gaslight Anthem first formed. And it’s crazy to think it’s been almost that long since The ’59 Sound launched them to stardom. With that kind of success, I’m kind of surprised Brian Fallon hadn’t released a solo album yet. With the band now on hiatus, it must have been a great feeling for the frontman to get into some of his own stuff and see what he can do on his own.
Every band from New Jersey since 1974 has had to deal with comparisons to Springsteen. This isn’t something Fallon backs away from. Instead he faces it head on and embraces the task. He does so admirably, singing songs about love and life in the same blue-collar vein the Boss made famous.
Right off the bat, on the opener “A Wonderful Life,” you can hear the scratchy vocals of a world-weary man itching for something more: “I want a life on fire, going mad with desire. I don’t wanna survive. I want a wonderful life.” The music even has an E Street Band feel, which honestly fits the song perfectly. It’s a great opening thesis for the rest of the album both musically and in spirit.
My favorite song on Painkillers comes a few tracks in. “Smoke” hits a lot of the criteria that my favorite tunes seem to have in common: handclaps, referencing other songs, and great lyrics that are sung clearly. The man described in the song sounds like he’s having a pretty rough go of it, but Fallon’s words are so perfectly crafted that it becomes a really beautifully crafted world.
I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Gaslight Anthem over the years. I’ve liked a couple songs here and there, but nothing that really grabbed me and forced me to pay attention to them. This solo record is Fallon’s defining work as far as I’m concerned. It’s more focused than any of the bands work, and holds together as a single listening experience much better than even the best Anthem records.
Painkillers is available now on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. If you’d like to see Brian Fallon live, and all the reviews I’ve read so far suggest you should, check out the dates for his U.S. tour below.
3/18 Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee, WI
3/19 The Varsity in Minneapolis, MN
3/20 House Of Blues in Chicago, IL
3/22 The Riot Room in Kansas City, MO
3/23 The Summit Music Hall in Denver, CO
3/25 The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA
3/26 House Of Blues in San Diego, CA