Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The first song on Brian Fallon’s first solo album Painkillers could easily have fit in on any of the six records he has made with his band The Gaslight Anthem. “A Wonderful Life” stomps ahead with irresistible forward thrust, hooks aplenty, some “whoa-oh” shouting, and super-charged couplets like “I want a life on fire/ Gone mad with desire.” It’s invigorating stuff, but not too much of a departure.
Painkillers quickly veers off from that attention-grabber, dials down the intensity of the music, and lets Fallon tread through settings more reflective and restrained. What hasn’t changed is his tendency to write about life’s myriad losses and rare victories with unfettered gusto and an exposed heart.
Fallon doesn’t back away from nostalgia. Many of his narrators walk through ghost-ridden streets remembering times of romance and possibility. And occasionally, as on “Among Other Foolish Things,” these aging characters are reluctant to completely abandon their misspent youth. Elsewhere hard-earned acceptance creeps in, as in the affecting closer “Open All Night” when the protagonist tells an estranged former lover, “You can’t make me whole/ I have to do that on my own.”
Producer Butch Walker does his usual bang-up job of playing to the strengths of his clients. In Fallon’s case, country touches like the moaning steel on “Long Drives” seep in subtly, adding even more wistfulness to songs already lousy with it. Perhaps Walker’s biggest contribution is backing off; this is an excellent batch of songs that too much embellishment could only have diluted.
Even with the volume of the instrumentation turned down, Fallon keeps his knack for segueing from wordy verses to heart-tugging choruses intact; songs like “Smoke” will embed themselves in your brain and you’ll be happy they stick around. On “Rosemary”, the title character finds herself “lost in the songs they don’t write anymore.” Brian Fallon rectifies that problem on Painkillers by writing an album of songs built to linger and last.