People like to get concerned about the quality of an artist’s output when the artist announces they are getting sober. As entertaining as it can be to watch someone struggle with their issues through excessive drinking while singing songs about the destructive nature of this behavior, it’s usually best for all involved to keep that shit in check. I don’t know about Brian Fallon’s substance use habits as of late, but after listening to his sophomore effort Sleepwalkers, I can tell you he’s adopted this new positive outlook fueled by meaningful introspection that is almost as jarring. Fans with a propensity towards his well trod tendencies of all things sad may be off-put by this idea, but seeing Fallon make peace with his demons – substance related or otherwise – and opening himself to the prospect of actual personal growth is a welcome and refreshing change of pace.
Brian Fallon always came off as the kind of person who saw himself a true hopeless romantic, where all the songs and movies about heartbreak and thoughtful loners were written just for him. It’s often easier to lose yourself in an idea of what you think love should be than face what is in front of you. With The Gaslight Anthem, Fallon excelled in a world of seemingly deep literary methaphors and nostalgic pop culture references wrapped around simple yet inviting chord structures, cradled by his warm vocals with just enough gruff to suggest an element of danger. His solo records follow pretty much the same formula and are different from The Gaslight Anthem in the same way that Tom Petty records are distinguishable from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers albums. What sets Sleepwalkers apart from previous works is the way Fallon uses these same techniques to shape his own perspective, rather than a mask to disguise his desires.
This idea of self-reflection comes through strongest in the song “Etta James”. The whole thing talks about a subject who spent so much time lost on past love. How many of us fell in love with The ’59 Sound ten years ago because of its captivating and moving approach to dealing with pain through nostalgia? I know I did. Clearly, things are different this decade because rather than lamenting the circumstances that Fallon finds himself in, we get a lyric like: “And all we wanted was absolutely everything/ Like foolish, hungry young lions/ I was lost and alone/ a million light years from home/ It was nobody’s fault but mine.” That’s a huge step and makes for not only my favorite song on the record, but also one of the most powerful.
A range of influences are explored on Sleepwalkers that approach the many moods of Brian Fallon. I know he’s a Jersey boy and everyone likes to call him “the Bruce Springsteen of “Punk”, but I am of belief that he’s more of a Tom Petty. He even wrote a song ten years ago expressing his undying love for both the late crooner and driving old men crazy. It’s showcased throughout from the warmth in the humbuckers to the drawl on the vocals in songs like “Neptune” or “Little Nightmares.” What seems to come through more than anything this time around is Fallon’s clear love for all things British. From naming one of his early bands This Charming Man to making Clash references at every possible opportunity since he was 17, the man is fascinated by England. It fits in line with his idea of romanticizing far away places and songs like “Watson” or “Come Wander With Me” serve to highlight the power a change of scenario can offer.
With the recent announcement of upcoming Gaslight Anthem shows as a means to celebrate the release of The ’59 Sound, it’s not unreasonable to think there might be more to come from the band. However, should it not, Sleepwalkers finds Fallon in what seems like a much better place to carry on where Gaslight left off. It’s not unreasonable to say that this album is more in line with what he wanted Get Hurt to do for him as far as getting past a traumatic event. The band’s fifth album may not have been the most successful at that, however, the time spent away from the spotlight to focus on personal growth appears to have been good for the frontman. I can’t say I would have expected a beautiful love song like “See You on the Other Side” to ever show up anywhere in Brian Fallon’s discography, but the newfound positive outlook paired with actual anticipation of the future that saturate this album provide a welcome home. It’s the perfect album for anyone looking to feel most if not all of the feels.