As frontman for The Gaslight Anthem, singer Brian Fallon has made a career out of crafting massive blue-collar rock anthems in the vein of greats like Bruce Springsteen and playing them to fanatical audiences across the world. When that band went on hiatus a couple of years ago, he also delighted fans by releasing a solo album entitled Painkillers. Now, he’s back with a follow-up, Sleepwalkers, and looks set to remind the world at large of why he’s one of modern rock music’s very best songwriters by pulling in some rather unexpected influences.
From the moment opener If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven kicks in, it’s evident that this is a quite different side to Fallon’s usual day job once again being shown off. Packing an almost-gospel music feel and a sparse but upbeat backing line, it’s a surprisingly strong fit for the vocalist’s raspy growling tones as he croons over what’s to be the first of many impressive choruses across the proceeding 50 minutes or so. If you like your rock music with lashings of R&B stylings and a distinctly Motown feel to it, then this first song is likely to be the catalyst in deciding if Sleepwalkers might well be the album for you.
It’s this poppy overtone that underpins the vast majority of Sleepwalkers in fact, albeit with a fair amount of experimentation – Forget Me Not sounds like a power-pop combination of The Beatles and Born To Run-era Springsteen and has easily the most memorable chorus on all of Sleepwalkers, whilst Neptune powers along at a steady anthemic pace, allowing the vocals to build to impressively catchy peaks in its choruses whilst never going too over-the-top. Title-track Sleepwalkers meanwhile, opens with a blast of sultry saxophone playing that quite easily could have come from the playbook of the E Street Band, and couples it with a bluesy vocal performance that quite comfortably sit as one of the very best Fallon has ever put to record at this point. That’s not to say everything on the album is necessarily a ballad though, as proven when the Rolling Stones-esque intro riff to Little Nightmares kicks in. Whilst still essentially in the same template as much of the track surrounding it, the track nonetheless feels like a shot of energy and revels in its upbeat stomping feel. It’s a sound that’s dialled up even further on My Name Is the Night (Color Me Black), which essentially sees Fallon going full-on blues-rock and putting forward an absolute barnstormer of a performance, as he channels classic rock spirit across a powerful riff that could have come from any number of classic 60s and 70s rock albums.
It’s definitely in the slower, more emotional approach where the songwriting on Sleepwalkers really shines though, as it turns out. The likes of Etta James, Proof of Life and Watson all display near-perfectly just how adept Brian Fallon really is at tugging on the heartstrings of his listeners; displaying a raw, emotional approach to his vocal delivery that manages to balance feeling both devastating and uplifting in equal measure, and flitting between them exactly when appropriate. Closing track See You On The Other Side is probably the best example of that approach though. For the most part a song which sees the sound stripped back all the way down to just Fallon and an acoustic guitar, it’s easily one of the emotional peaks of the entire album.
It seems obvious to say it, but Sleepwalkers as a record is likely going to hold appeal mostly to die-hard fans of Fallon and his work. Casual listeners looking to find more of the hard rock sound usually put out with The Gaslight Anthem will probably be surprised at the more pop and blues oriented sound on display here, but those willing to stick with it will find Sleepwalkers to be an impressively layered album with a huge range of catchy songs to pick from.