For nearly 10 years, Brian Fallon was frontman for the influential New Jersey group Gaslight Anthem, who turned out five albums of blazing punk that appealed to both the Vans Warped Tour and NPR set. But since the group entered an “indefinite hiatus” last year, Fallon hasn’t been resting. Instead, he’s going solo and on his first proper LP, he’s dialing back the noise for acoustic ballads and strummy rockers.
If it seems like Fallon is echoing the career moves of The Garden State’s other most famous musical export—that’d be Springsteen—you wouldn’t be far off. But on Painkillers, 36-year-old Fallon proves he’s a first-rate songwriter with a dozen tunes that wax philosophical about love and the human condition—the dude’s like a modern day Nietsczhe with a sleeve tattoo. On the rollicking “Among Other Foolish Things,” he croons, “And they say such foolish things/ Like, ‘Love, love, love, love is all you need’/ But everything inside is saying/ ‘Danger, baby, love’s gonna leave.” And on the Tom Petty-esque “Nobody wins,” he opens up about the bitter truths of a failed romance. “I guess we’re never gonna end up the lucky ones,” he sings to an old lover. “Oh, if I never see you again/Have a round of me love/Hallelujah, nobody wins.”
This might sound like the very definition of Bummer Town, yet Fallon and producer Butch Walker elevate the mood with upbeat arrangements while Fallon’s gravelly rasp sounds more world-weary than ever before. There are slight signs of optimism on tracks like the country-tinged “Open All Night,” too. “I don’t let reminders get me down like before,” he sings. Fallon may no longer have the fire of his beloved punk rockers behind him, but it doesn’t matter: Painkillers is a compelling second act.