Fallon’s first solo album ‘Painkillers’ opens with the bouncing ‘A Wonderful Life’, a stark contrast to its opposite number on The Gaslight Anthem’s last release ‘Get Hurt’. Where ‘Stay Vicious’ barrelled in on a grungey riff and desperate lyrics, ‘A Wonderful Life’ drips with optimism and sees a return to Fallon’s trademark 50’s references.
Perhaps partly a reaction to the criticism of the bleak themes and presentation of ‘Get Hurt’, this solo offering follows up in a bittersweet tone, its jauntier arrangements grown around campfire acoustic guitars. As with any Fallon release you know roughly what you’re going to get (loving tributes to his musical heroes Springsteen, the Clash and Dylan) and if you’re after left-turns its fair to say you won’t find them here.
Producer Butch Walker’s fingers are all over the handclapping singalong of ‘Smoke’, where Fallon laments the loss of a love grasped too tightly. Without the usual band behind him distortion takes a backseat to mandolins, keyboards and acoustic instruments. The rugged folk of ‘Rosemary’ could pass for Frank Turner, while ‘Long Drives’ features yearning pedal steel and gorgeous bluegrass harmonies from bassist Catherine Popper.
Rather than change the core of his songs between his different projects Fallon seems to alter the dynamics and adornment, dressing his tales of heartbreak and highways up in different clothes; be they blue jeans and white T-shirts, Tom Waits suits or jean jackets.
At the behest of Walker, Fallon has dropped some of his more well-worn turns of phrase for a more straightforward, conversational tone lyrically, which understandably has its hits and misses. Incidentally there are only two mentions of the ubiquitous ‘radio’ of earlier work (we were only messing with you Brian).
In trading heartache for handclaps Fallon has written a largely enjoyable album that allows him to try his hand at folk and country alongside his trademark heartland rock. If not as emotive as recent Gaslight albums, ‘Painkillers’ is a solid slab of Americana and it certainly sounds like Fallon had a blast creating it.