Album Review: Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers

By on Thursday, 8th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

brian fallon Sleepwalkers coverAmerican rocker Brian Fallon already has a busy schedule for the early part of 2018. He will embark on a UK headline tour with his current band, The Howling Weather at the end of this month, which will be followed by North American dates extending through the spring. His summer plans include headline shows and festivals with former band The Gaslight Anthem in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their hit album ‘The ’59 Sound’.

Fallon’s upcoming solo shows are in support of his new LP ‘Sleepwalkers’, which like his previous studio effort, 2016’s ‘Painkillers’, will probably be stronger live than on recording. Thematically, Fallon’s songwriting on ‘Sleepwalkers’ dwells in those aching moments in life when the stars don’t quite align. He takes on the role of romantic anti-hero very well, and his earnest sincerity is undeniable. Musically, ‘Sleepwalkers’ is an extension of the folk rock sound Fallon developed on ‘Painkillers’, but with a bit more of the anthemic gospel of The Gaslight Anthem added to the mix. Opening tracks ‘If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are prime examples, though the subtle restraint in the former and the perspective shift in the final chorus of the latter both come as pleasant surprises.

‘Sleepwalkers’ doesn’t have many well-defined high or low points in terms of dramatic tension and intensity. Its tempos and dynamics are cranked up high through the first part of the tracklisting, almost monotonously so, with the exception of standout track ‘Etta James.’ Fallon is probably sick to death of the constant Springsteen comparisons, but he really does choose fortunate moments to channel his fellow New Jersey predecessor, and the soulful, slow burning ‘Etta James’ is one of those.

Later in the album sequence, there is more variety, as in the folk-leaning dance instrumentation of ‘Proof of Life’ and the brass-tinged jazz rhythms of title track ‘Sleepwalkers’. Unfortunately, Fallon’s half-spoken/half-sung delivery isn’t melodic enough to lift the heavy, square melodies and the overall effect is a bit dragging. His slurred vocal delivery works better in the country-tinged ‘Watson’ whose clever, if slightly awkward, lyrical metaphor finds him singing in character, “I’m worried when I’m old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London”. Fallon’s signature gritty vocals, along with hard-edged guitars and pounding drums, are central to ‘My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)’, which though lyrically a bit trite, finds some dynamic variety without losing any of its emotional intensity.

Album closer ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a stripped-back guitar ballad that exposes both Fallon’s strengths and his weaknesses. Its verse lyrics, where he pledges to “spend my life in your majesty’s service / and call myself satisfied”, create a nice symmetry with an earlier track, but his unnuanced vocal delivery doesn’t quite overcome the square, singsong quality of the chorus.

Fallon’s solo efforts continue to vex me to a certain degree. His public persona (both on stage and in interviews) is so thoughtful and genuinely charismatic that I find myself truly *wanting* to like his songs. Taken individually, the songs on ‘Sleepwalkers’ are strong, but the album as a whole falls slightly short of its potential. In the end, with ‘Sleepwalkers’ as with ‘Painkillers’, it comes down to a toss-up between Fallon’s singing and his lyrics. I feel absolutely sure that at some point, there will come a magical moment when Brian Fallon hits the target on both at the same time, but as yet, that hasn’t materialised.

7/10

‘Sleepwalkers’, Brian Fallon’s second solo LP, is out tomorrow, Friday the 9th of February, on Virgin EMI. TGTF’s past coverage of Brian Fallon is collected through here, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem is back here.

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