To Brian Fallon’s obvious irritation, comparisons between his band the Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen have followed him around like a particularly enthusiastic and needy puppy since TGA emerged from The Boss’s home state of New Jersey a decade ago.
So, with his band on “indefinite hiatus”, how does he introduce his solo debut to the world? With an opening title track that is so Springsteen-inflected, you have to wonder if, secretly, he’s taking the piss.
From its chiming, classic melodies, to Fallon’s warm rasp, to the fist-pumping, everyman, aspirational lyrics (‘I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life’), this is Bruce-patented, anthemic classic rock at its most finely honed. And, frankly, that’s no bad thing.
As the album unfolds, though, it’s clear that this is no pastiche. Any of the slight rough edges the Gaslight Anthem may have once had – that saw them welcomed into the punk world with open arms – have been sanded down over time to let the fine grain of Fallon’s songwriting skills shine. This is timeless stuff.
The glockenspiel-sprinkled Rosemary, in particular, sounds like it emerged fully formed into the world, the heartbreaking urban loneliness of the titular character seeping from the speakers despite the disarming sprightliness of the music. Throughout the album, Fallon spins vivid stories of everyday people, holding a mirror to their hopes and fears, strengths and failures, set in dusty bars and old cars, dark bedrooms and shadows of the past.
And even when he removes the gloss and allows the songs to be a little more ragged, as on Smoke, with its handclaps, deliberately sloppy guitar and barroom piano, it is meticulous in its construction, the atmosphere of regret and loss coming through and taking on a life of its own. There’s even a country tinge on Long Drives. And while that’s far from the strongest track here, it suggests ambitions to nip at Ryan Adams’s heels in the future.
What all this means for the future of the Gaslight Anthem is anyone’s guess. But, harsh as it sounds, on the evidence of Painkillers, Fallon doesn’t really need the backup of a regular band. With this debut he’s placed his stake as an American singer-songwriter of style and substance.
FINAL VERDICT: 8⁄10