Brian Fallon’s biggest strength is that he plays to his strengths. Sleepwalkers, the second solo longplayer from The Gaslight Anthem frontman, largely follows the singer-songwriter path that his debut, Painkillers, set.
Fallon decided this time around to color a little outside the lines, though. Sitting comfortably beside his Springsteen worship is some Motown flavor (“If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven” and the title track), a bit of country-rock (“Watson”), and some Elvis Costello bounce (“Neptune”).
But Sleepwalkers, like Fallon’s entire catalogue, mainly functions as an extended love letter to a time when guitar-centric rock was king. The itchy and anxious guitar twinkles of “Come Wander With Me” and the descending guitar lines in “Little Nightmares” can come off as nostalgic and/or naïve in 2018, sure, but they’re also stupidly effective. And when his backing band lets loose in the second half of “Neptune,” it’s one of the few times they don’t sound stiff and innocuous.
As for what Fallon has to say – well, there’s nothing all that revelatory here. He's still leaning heavily on the afterlife as a writing device, and hopes his broken-in shoe of a voice sells it: “Like a ghost chained to a haunting,” “Would I get any rest from the wreck that I was with the living?” He’s also still mistaking old-timey phrases like “bend your ear” and “cool operator” for actual depth, and is still dead set on employing winking nods to the classic rock he adores so much and proselytizing for the healing power of music (“I never felt like I was home / Felt like a strange, long distance caller / ‘Cept to the words I heard on the needle spinning by my bedside”).
So yeah, if you buy into Brian Fallon’s rock classicist worldview, Sleepwalkers is an enjoyable record. Just don’t ask for much beyond that.