Review Summary: While there are no surprises, it's a record that Fallon absolutely needed to write and record for his own sake.
Sometimes, when people are feeling down-and-out, they don't need help or solutions or stare down an unanswerable "You know what you should do"" question -- especially when the inquirer has a pre-loaded solution. In times like these, perhaps they just need empathy.
Full disclosure: this is the only time I'm going to mention the loose association between Brian Fallon's divorce, the tepid response of 2014's Get Hurt
with The Gaslight Anthem, and the aforementioned outfit's murky is-it-permanent, is-it-temporary hiatus standing, but it's unmistakable that the gravelly-voiced Fallon had more demons to confront. I still believe that Get Hurt
was therapeutic for him, but it wasn't enough to expunge those ghosts for good. Instead, Painkillers
is undoubtedly the album Fallon absolutely needed to write to move on, grow, and flourish as a singer-songwriter.
Speaking of ghosts, it was a brilliant decision to tap the prolific and perpetually-creative Butch Walker to assist with Painkillers
. While Walker and Frank Turner created admirable work together on last year's resplendent Positive Songs for Negative People
' essence more closely parallels Walker's country-tinged Afraid of Ghosts
from yesteryear. Fallon's first solo offering sports a bevy of 12-string acoustic guitars, pedal steel, banjo, and mandolin, each of which complement bright electric guitars, lively organ, and tender piano. While it's true that there are a handful of songs Fallon created first with side-project Molly & The Zombies ("Smoke", "Red Lights", "Long Drives"), those songs seem to serve as a jumping-off point that deserved a complete studio treatment.
, it's evident that Fallon's tried-and-true intimations - Petty, Springsteen, some Dylan here-and-there - continue to be benign specters in his songwriting. For example, when these influences are integrated with Fallon's knack for storytelling and character development, look no further than album opener "A Wonderful Life" and its rollicking snare that segues into a vibrant, full-bodied verse. "A Wonderful Life" and its "Whoa-oh-ohh"s are reminiscent of Gaslight, and truth be told, it's a song that wouldn't be out of place on any album between The '59 Sound
. Whether he's George Bailey, performing through a different character's eyes, or speaking as himself, it's palpable that Fallon still adores massive, anthemic choruses. The record's title track, the revamped "Smoke", and the remarkable "Nobody Wins" also feature some beautifully-written hooks in those expansive choruses.
' other indisputable strength lies in its harmonies. Rather than layering vocals, Fallon and company sang all the melodies and harmonies around a central microphone in an effort to prevent themselves from editing it later. The album's title track is a quintessential example of this, along with the soaring "Rosemary" and masterfully-placed closer "Open All Night". Meanwhile, "Smoke"'s ubiquitous handclap-driven antiphony and near-Bono-circa-The Joshua Tree
vocal mannerisms carry undeniable charm, the robust bass from studio stalwart Catherine Popper buoys the refurbished "Red Lights", and the gorgeous guitar licks that percolate throughout "Nobody Wins" are truly sublime. Those familiar with Fallon's lyrical recital presentation will come to find no astonishing change in gears, but the singular bluesy stomper "Mojo Hand" is unlike any other song that he's recorded to date, whereas the solemn, fingerpicked "Steve McQueen" feels as familiar and comfortable as a hoodie and blue jeans in autumn.
As you might anticipate, the reality is that Painkillers
offers little to those who've already made up their mind about Fallon. If you appreciate his 'old soul' shtick, his various side projects (The Horrible Crowes, Molly & The Zombies), and multi-character narration style, then Painkillers
is sure to satisfy. On the other hand, if you've grown tired of the Springsteen/Petty allusions, gimmicky lyrical crutches, and his proverbial Rolodex littered with an assortment of women's names, Fallon's take on Jersey-imbued Americana is sure to exasperate. While it's nebulous at best regarding the status of The Gaslight Anthem, it's unambiguous that Fallon was hurting the past couple years and in dire need of a blank slate in order to take ownership of his past and present pain. Rather than sulking, Fallon recognized that perseverance and getting back to where he feels most comfortable - writing, recording, and collaborating - would rejuvenate his inner fire and blue-collar work ethic in order to start healing. Throughout this record, you get a sense that Fallon feels deeply connected to - and comfortable with - these set of songs. The album's congruence in theme, tempo, and tone is both consistent and coherent. Together with Butch Walker, Catherine Popper, and long-time running mates Ian Perkins and Alex Rosamilia (among others), Painkillers
is a carefully-cultivated record that Fallon categorically needed to write.
"A Wonderful Life"
"Open All Night"