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Brian Fallon - Sleepwalkers (Album Review)

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

In any walk of life, successful people are the ones who know how to maximise their strengths while working on, or disguising, their weaknesses. It’s a philosophy the Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon has adopted as his modus operandi to great effect in recent years, including on his impressively diverse second solo album, ‘Sleepwalkers’.

Fallon’s a clever guy. He understands that his songwriting style and voice are easily identifiable, something that’s part wonderful gift, part potential curse. For artists of this constricted ilk, being instantly recognisable means some form of creative evolution is an imperative, lest they get labelled a repetitive one trick pony.

So, when he came to record his debut solo effort, 2016’s warm and expansive Americana record ‘Painkillers’, he knew where he’d gone wrong with the Gaslight Anthem’s misguided departure, ‘Get Hurt’. Not to mention what he got right with his Horrible Crowes side-project earlier in the decade.

Armed with that knowledge, he set out to dress up his trademark sound in vibrant new clothing, blending different styles into his aesthetic while remaining true to his creative instincts and unmoved by external forces.

It was a successful approach, and one he’s taken further still on a new record that explores an even wider range of his influences. Reteaming with producer Ted Hutt, who handled the Gaslight Anthem’s signature LP, ‘The ‘59 Sound’, a variety of flavours and rhythms from soul, classic R&B and gospel have been employed to invigorate his template. These days his take on Americana is affluent with nods to 1960s British invasion bands and lush instrumental textures that include a near omnipresent Vox Continental organ.

If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven is a finger-clicking Motown mover, Come Wander With Me’s dub-like guitar intro recalls the Police and the breezy title track melds together jazzy trumpet and sax for a sunset romp in New Orleans. My Name is Night (Colour Me Black), meanwhile, is equal parts Rolling Stones, T-Rex and the Replacements, with the lyrically magnificent Watson so in thrall to the Beatles it should probably be photographed on Abbey Road’s zebra crossing.   

Elsewhere, R&B stomper Forget Me Not possesses an infectious chorus that’s the most bubbly, drawn out melodic work Fallon’s turned in since Old White Lincoln, while Neptune’s spunky jubilance and nostalgic sentiments offer a sublime transatlantic, generational crossover between the Zombies and Fallon’s old band. Throughout there are choices that reinforce his aptitude for finding the right equilibrium between the old and the new.  

That’s particularly prevalent in a brand of storytelling that continues the shift into more mature, personal territory we saw on ‘Painkillers’. He may be exploring familiar, almost worn out, themes with his usual imagery-laden poetry and cultural references, but he has rebooted them by doing so from the position of a man staring down his mortality.  

When combined with those gleaming stylistic embellishments, the result is an energetic, thoughtful and mostly optimistic batch of songs that, although focusing on legacy, aging and death, seems determined to milk the moment for all it’s worth.

In totting up a final tally on ‘Sleepwalkers’, there are several things to consider. Firstly, the best songs on ‘Painkillers’ are stronger than anything on this record, and Fallon’s limited vocals can’t always deliver this new material with the requisite authenticity. But, in terms of craftsmanship, consistency and variety, ‘Sleepwalkers’ trumps its predecessor and is a 12 track lesson in how to make the most of your talents without losing sight of what makes you special.

Brian Fallon Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Wed February 21 2018 - MANCHESER O2 Ritz
Thu February 22 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Fri February 23 2018 - LONDON KOKO
Sat February 24 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sun February 25 2018 - BRISTOL SXW
Thu March 08 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Fri March 09 2018 - LEEDS Beckett Students Union
Sat March 10 2018 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Sun March 11 2018 - BELFAST Limelight

Click here to compare & buy Brian Fallon Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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