Written By Chris Osifchin
Seven years after my first encounter with The Gaslight Anthem, I finally saw Brian Fallon and company live at Skate and Surf in Asbury Park, a hometown send off show before the band toured Europe for the summer. The show was fun, the crowd was great, but the attitude of the band felt subdued. Like we’ve been here before. Like they were just going through the motions.
It’s hard not to feel that way about Brian Fallon’s first solo album, Painkillers. After the mostly negative reviews of Gaslight’s most recent effort, Get Hurt, this twelve song disc is a return to form and function for Fallon, both musically and lyrically. While this is not inherently bad – many artists make long careers staying in the same wheelhouse – the result is an album that is merely adequate.
Fallon has said in interviews that Get Hurt was about proving that he’s not a one-trick stone pony. With a return to the roots of his sound, Painkillers seems like a reaction to some of the negative commentary that surrounded Gaslight’s last release. There’s a particular cadence and rhythm in these songs that is unmistakably Brian Fallon, especially noticeable in the lyrics. Songs like “A Wonderful Life” and “Among Other Foolish Things” would sit comfortably in the passenger seat of the Gaslight discography. While a good portion of the album probably feels like standard fare for a Gaslight Anthem fan, it springs to life on the second half. If the first half of the album is more of a back-to-basics approach, the second half, marked by the nostalgic yearning for youth of “Steve McQueen” is where Fallon starts to stretch his fingers and loosen up.
“Steve McQueen” marks a turning point on Painkillers. Here’s a song that’s somber and sentimental about an era long gone, one that Fallon wasn’t even alive for, imbued with a certain tone that makes it seem like the singer resides firmly outside of reality. On the chorus Fallon sings “This life is only chains/It’s nothing like the colors in my dreams/I just wanted to be Steve McQueen.” Whether he’s looking back, or looking forward, it’s clear by now that Brian Fallon lives in the realm of his characters and is devoted to the idyllic notion of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. The song is the last of the Gaslight half of the album and clears the debris for Brian Fallon to begin anew.
If vinyl were still the medium of choice for records, side B of Painkillers would definitely be worn out before side A. The best songs on this album come on the second side, and they’re the ones that are atypical for Brian Fallon. Particularly good and unusual is the penultimate track, the Beatles-esque “Mojo Hand.” It’s got an upbeat piano line and major key blues riffs that would sound right at home on the first half of the White Album. “Honey Magnolia” channels the type of slow 70s ballad you might hear on the radio in between Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Springsteen’s “The Promised Land.” It’s a soothing song, although it’s about the end of a relationship, written from a woman’s perspective and it works nicely right before “Mojo Hand.” Album closer “Open All Night” is a reminder to anyone that doubted him that Brian Fallon isn’t going anywhere. In a way, the song is a nice bookend to the previous chapter of his career and is cathartic for Fallon when he sings “I don’t let reminders get me down like before.”
For a first attempt at a solo album, Painkillers is a decent debut. If Fallon still doubts his musical ability, the second side of this disc should make him think twice about doubting himself. Not only has he moved out of the box he felt was closing around him during Gaslight’s most prosperous years, it seems like he also stopped trying to force himself to make something different. Without the pressure of making art that drastically departs from his previous success, Brian Fallon has freed himself to make music that satisfies his own standards, as well as fans. Joy can be heard in Fallon’s voice throughout the record. Here’s hoping the successes of this first solo effort carry through for Brian Fallon.
Rating 6.5 out of 10