In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Painkillers is a showcase of a surprisingly versatile songwriter and musician, stretching his legs and winning on every gamble and chance he takes.”
When I wrote about The Gaslight Anthem’s release, The ’59 Sound, I said they have, “their sound. It’s the Gaslight Anthem sound, and if you don’t like it after one song, I’m not sure if it’ll grow on you later.” When I wrote about their much more high profile 2014 release Get Hurt, I said, “Start here, because you’ll probably like it. Then be prepared for the awesomeness that comes with the previous records.” With hindsight, I can see now that both of those conclusions indicated that the band needed to change things up, sooner rather than later.
That consistent sound of the older records hinted at The Gaslight Anthem possibly being a little narrow in focus, even if I enjoyed the results. And my comments on the latter show that I was beginning to reach my limit of that sound. Which makes it the perfect time, from my point of view as a fan, for front man Brian Fallon to freshen things up and go solo, with Painkillers.
The jangled guitars and poppy feel of A Wonderful World make it immediately clear that Fallon isn’t trying to make a Gaslight Anthem record under another name. It’s got a folky, alt-indie feel. But at the same time, the unmistakable gravel of his voice is still there, even if the melody is a little lighter than what he’s been known for in the past.
Fallon has always exuded a Springsteen-esque, working class, man of the people vibe, even in his loudest, fastest, punkiest moments. Now, as a solo artist, a song like the titular Painkillers lets him go into full blown troubadour territory. And when backed up with something as all American and nostalgic filled as Among Other Foolish Things, it’s a role he’s more than capable of filling.
Based purely on the unavoidable, hit singles, there’s a poser-ness to faux folk bands like Mumford and Sons that I just can’t get past. They play a kind of music that needs a certain level of life experience to sound even close to earned. Brian Fallon might only be 36, but with over a decade of the hard work and hard touring that comes with a band like The Gaslight Anthem, I’m totally fine with him appropriating the grizzled, world weary sound needed for a song like Smoke, where everything sound so long ago, so deep in the past tense and so informed by 20/20 hindsight.
But that’s nothing compared to the finger picked guitar and lyrics of lament that turn regret into motivation to do better on Steve McQueen. It’s tenderness he could never get away with in a punk band, but a tenderness so perfectly suited to Fallon’s aged beyond its years voice. Conversely, all Rosemary needs is the slightest bit more aggression and grunt, and it would fit perfectly on any Gaslight Anthem album.
When the pedal steel is brought it for Long Drives, it feels kind of inevitable. With all of the acoustic, rustic tones of Painkillers, it was only matter of time before alt-country got a run, and like so much of this record, it just works. For such a unique, singular voice, Fallon puts it to surprisingly versatile use. And that versatility is really put to the test on the piano jauntiness of Mojo Hand. And just like every song before this, it’s a test that Brian Fallon passes with flying colours.
I thought I knew what to expect from a Brian Fallon solo effort. I thought it would be pure Springsteen with a slight punk rock tinge. Instead, Painkillers is a showcase of a surprisingly versatile songwriter and musician, stretching his legs and winning on every gamble and chance he takes.