Brian Fallon – ‘Sleepwalkers’

By Tom Walsh

“We’ve taken this thing really far … now what?’ I don’t think any of us had an answer. Then ‘We’re at a crossroads. No one knows what to do,” Brian Fallon told Rolling Stone in early-2016 upon the hiatus of The Gaslight Anthem. “Now what”, is a pertinent question in so many ways.

It’s one that people ask themselves on a daily basis. As the party finishes, as the smoke clears and it’s another morning, that question is always there – now what? It carries even more gravitas when you’ve been labelled as the next Bruce Springsteen and your once garage band has been heralded as the natural successor to The Boss himself.

Burned out, Fallon decided to leap off the juggernaut that is The Gaslight Anthem, dust himself down, look up and ponder that very question. It is a theme that seems to resonate through the New Jersey native’s second solo record ‘Sleepwalkers’. While his debut effort, ‘Painkillers’ exorcised some of the demons that came with the break from Gaslight, ‘Sleepwalkers’ presents introspection and a songwriter ready to bear his soul once again.

Like many of his contemporaries, Fallon spends the record grappling with the sense of age, the passing of time and ultimately mortality, and it’s all strung together in that style of Americana his solo offerings have perfected. While ‘Painkillers’ was Fallon stripped back, ‘Sleepwalkers’ offers that sway of R&B and folk.

The question of mortality is explored in lead single ‘Forget Me Not’ as Fallon pens a lasting wish to be remembered – ‘would you put your black dress on and visit my bones? – to his present sweetheart. It is a theme that resonates throughout ‘Sleepwalkers’ as Fallon continues to reflect on his past life in that  melancholic, storytelling way he’s become renowned for.

There is an underlying pain as Fallon takes on the sense of lost love on the lip-trembling ‘Etta James’. It continues on title track ‘Sleepwalkers’ as the New Jersey native writes home to his “mama” to tell her about the belle he can’t keep out of his head. It is a heartbreaking love letter that you can imagine is told with a smile as life continues to march on.

While there is a lot of introspection and even questioning what is lingering around the corner, this is ultimately an uplifting album and builds wonderfully on ‘Painkillers’. There are lighter moments in the dancefloor filler of ‘Neptune’, the riff-heavy ‘My Name is the Night’ and the sing-a-long ‘Little Nightmares’.

The closing acoustic track of ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a poignant end to the album. It is a curtain call of a record where Fallon has tackled those nagging feelings that come with the passing of time. Through these 12 tracks he has bared his soul once again and it feels almost like a therapy session. As he croons “And when we close our eyes on this lifetime, I’ll see you on the other side” that question of “now, what?” does not seem as daunting. The break from the Gaslight Anthem has allowed Fallon to write some of his best work and this makes the future that little bit brighter.

TOM WALSH

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