In 2009, right after The Gaslight Anthem had first begun to make their name known, there were rumors that front-man Brian Fallon would be recording a solo album. Fallon was quick to dismiss the rumors as nothing more but rumors. Which was fine because at the time the scene had become oversaturated with punk singers going rogue equipped with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Flash forward to the present: Here we are in 2016. The Gaslight Anthem is currently on hold and the scene has become more rounded out with full lineup solo projects, and Painkillers, Brian Fallon’s debut solo album, is now more than just some rumor fueled by the NY Times.
Let’s get right into it: Painkillers is the quintessential Brian Fallon record. This isn’t up for debate, nor is it a positive or negative statement. It’s just simply the most Brian Fallon record to date. Over the past decade, everyone has been quick to point out, both as praise and as criticism, that Fallon’s songwriting style is filled with the same themes and influences. Even when The Gaslight Anthem began to stray away what skyrocketed them to popularity, ever so slightly on 2012’s Handwritten but particularly on 2014’s Get Hurt, Fallon still couldn’t escape the shadows cast by Maria, radios, and classic cars. On Painkillers, Fallon uses those specific clichés sparingly (Maria and her radio are absent here, but there are mentions of Cadillacs in album closer “Open All Night”), but he sure as hell doesn’t shy away from waxing poetic. Is there a songwriter today that romanticizes the past more than Brian Fallon? Probably not. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains entirely up to the listener.
That said, Painkillers isn’t just a carbon copy of any of Fallon’s other bands, and it’s not some album that could have been released by The Gaslight Anthem at another point in their career. Perhaps due to working with producer Butch Walker, the songs here are primarily built upon acoustic chord progressions, with everything else being wrapped around them. There are soft layers of twangy guitars mixed throughout the album adding an Americana flavor to the album and aiding the album to find its own identity. And while there’s an energy here, it’s a far cry from The ‘59 Sound. The album is at its most upbeat during lead single “A Wonderful Life,” “Rosemary” (the verses of which recall Frank Turner’s “Josephine,” from last year’s Positive Songs for Negative People, also produced by Walker) and the jaunty “Mojo Hand” (which is sure to raise some eyebrows due to its disruptive nature on the track list). Painkillers definitely sounds like a Brian Fallon album, but hardly like an album he’s made before.
Maybe, even though he’s expanded to sprinkling references to James Brown (“Honey Magnolia), Rites of Spring (“Long Drives,” heavily re-worked since its release as a Molly and the Zombies song), and The Beatles (“Among Other Foolish Things”) in his work, Fallon does have a distinct writing style that leans heavily on the same subject matters. And maybe he does take his cues from all the same places, as homages to Petty (“Nobody Wins”) and The Boss (the aforementioned “Open All Night” isn’t a cover, but there’s no way that title wasn’t intentional). But so what? Much like Elsie, Fallon’s solo outing has its subtle differences that distinguish it from the rest. Painkillers is a project that can be seen as a companion to his previous works, but it can just as well stand on its own.
4 / 5
RIYL: Chuck Ragan, Ryan Adams, Frank Turner