Brian Fallon is charging forward with his solo career, not content to repeat himself — at least, not consciously. While his debut, Painkillers, was a firm statement that the former Gaslight Anthem frontman is a singer-songwriter to be taken seriously, Sleepwalkers takes him out of his comfort zone and into a risk-taker's realm.
Mixing in strong flavours of Motown, blues and soul, the record dives right in with "If Your Prayers Don't Get to Heaven" and "Forget Me Not," two songs you could earnestly describe using the word "boogie." More than a little reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Dire Straits, and with no shortage of clapping and snapping of fingers, Sleepwalkers is full of tunes that high school students might dance to in an '80s flick.
Throughout, Fallon finds himself reminiscing about days gone by, not out of longing but out of fondness, even amazement. In the same year that marks the tenth anniversary of the Gaslight Anthem's breakthrough album The '59 Sound, Fallon seems to be reflecting quite a bit on his younger self, and how time and fame have brought many changes to his life and answered some questions along the way — while leaving plenty more unanswered.
He does so while continuing to boast rock-solid songwriting, even if this R&B-imbued rock'n'roll throwback style fits him a bit like someone else's tailored suit. For old fans, the dance-y "My Name Is the Night (Color Me Black)" and "Come Wander with Me" will be a major adjustment, as will the cozy lounge feel of "Sleepwalkers." Meanwhile, "Her Majesty's Service" is a highlight in the more traditional Fallon style, the kind of folksy anthem that wouldn't be out of place at Woodstock or on the Forrest Gump soundtrack.
"See You on the Other Side" is a modest, traditional folk song that might remind devotees of "Red at Night" from Sink or Swim. With its soaring chorus, "Neptune" is a near slam dunk, but its goofy, happy-go-lucky bridge is so out of place it yanks you right out of the song's sentimentality. And while "Proof of Life" is just too sappy for its own good, "Etta James" is a sneakily catchy power ballad.
Sleepwalkers has some very good songs, but often comes off as cheesy and predictable — if a melody sounds familiar, it's probably because Fallon has sung one just like it before. It's adventurous in some ways, which isn't always a good thing, and same-old Brian Fallon in other ways, which isn't always a bad thing.
Order Sleepwalkers on vinyl via Umusic. (Island)