After five high-octane studio albums as a member of Gaslight Anthem, singer Brian Fallon steps out on his first solo album, Painkillers. Funny thing, solo albums. They're either an opportunity to flex different muscles and explore musical territory beyond that for which your full-time band is known or a chance to reach new commercial heights without the resistance fellow band members.
In the case of Painkillers, it appears Fallon borrows a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
In the act of full disclosure, I consider Gaslight Anthem a consistently dependable American rock band who make stadium size riffs and hooks that, in a perfect world, would be all over the radio and MTV. Sadly, these days, radio and MTV no longer play this brand of guitar-driven rock unless a song happens to first gain traction via an episode of American Idol or some other reality-based talent show.
My only legitimate gripe is with the production the band utilizes where every instrument and vocal track is compressed to within an inch of its life, giving the final product a high-gloss sheen that is quick to cause ear fatigue.
Sadly, Fallon's solo debut suffers from this same reliance upon over-compression.
Produced by Butch Walker, the album consistently rocks with a level of conviction equal to that of modern-day Bruce Springsteen, who is an obvious influence. Fallon's voice also recalls that of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, making this the album to have for Wilco fans wishing Tweedy & Co. would, just once, rock out with their critically-acclaimed cocks out.
"Steve McQueen" (not the Sheryl Crow or M83 song) slows things down and allows Fallon's soulful rasp to take center stage. this, of course, is when a little less compression on the vocal would have really allowed it to shine, but the song itself is a wistful re-imagining of "Born To Run" that stands as one of the album's finest cuts.
"Rosemary", by comparison, is so adept at capturing the essence of Springsteen at his upbeat, yet wistful best that you almost want to check the credits to see if he didn't have a hand in its creation.
The other influence that rears its head throughout the album is that of Jim Ellison, the late singer/guitarist for Chicago power pop band Material Issue, whose vocal and melodic presence is felt on "Nobody Wins" and "Red Lights".
The album closes on a playful note with the rollicking and celebratory "Mojo Hand", placing a triumphant cherry atop this consistently delightful album that one surmises was meant to be played live and loud. Thankfully for Chicago rock fans, Fallon and his band pull into town on Sunday, March 20 for a headlining show at House of Blues, Tickets are available HERE.