Brian Fallon has focused on loss - especially fear of losing someone - for his entire career.
It's little wonder then that loss is a common theme on Sleepwalkers, Fallon's second solo record. Sleepwalkers follows 2016's Painkillers, and he largely follows the blueprint from that record here.
There's a jaunty but haunted opener in "Forget Me Not," and a tender album closer in "See You On The Other Side" (more on both of those later). If ain't broke, don't fix it.
Fallon still shows growth personally and as a songwriter. With apparent abandonment issues stemming from a rough divorce and an absentee father, he turns his attention on Sleepwalkers to the next woman (or women) in his life.
"Watson" features many of the neuroses we've come to expect. He pleads with a woman to commit to him, for fear of growing old alone. A few new tidbits stand out though. The narrator could well be in a happy relationship (save the lack of commitment). Musically, the track leans into a bit of Southern twang. Up against the London-based imagery of the track, it creates a staggering and rich portrait.
It wouldn't be a Fallon record without illusions to his father - or his influences. "Come Wander With Me" is a track equal parts romantic and burdened. After extolling the virtues of his all-everything mother, Fallon flatly states, "I pretended that my daddy was a bank robber." Both an apparent on the pain of losing his Dad, and an homage to Joe Strummer.
It's an anthem for anyone with a rough upbringing. It's for anyone whose been ground down enough to feel like there's not much left, but you're still going to try. In love or in life.
"Forget Me Not," Sleepwalkers' first single, has all the jovial pep and pop Fallon can muster, but at heart, Fallon seems desperately worried about what happens to widows and widowers. That even about half of those lucky enough to find our lobster will have to watch them go.
It's not all doom and despair though. As Fallon dives into the happier end of the romantic spectrum, he pulls you all the way in the other direction.
Take crooner "Etta James." This one has future wedding first dance written all over it. A tune that starts somber, it roars into a tribute to the late soul singer and the meaning of finding love. Deep and obvious at the same time, it features some of the best vocal work and production of Fallon's career (we're talking "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues"-level chills).
Closer "See You On The Other Side" creates a wonderful symmetry with "Forget Me Not." Somewhat at peace with his own mortality, Fallon assures his love that he'll see her again after they pass. It's not quite clear where that is; the song is much less overt than say, "I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together" from his Horrible Crowes days. That's okay. In a lot of ways, the track is about letting go, just as "Open All Night" was on Painkillers.
It's opener "If Your Prayers Don't Get To Heaven" that really shines though. I'm not blowing smoke when I say that this track will make the dead inside believe in love again. It did that for me.
This record is not perfect. "Her Majesty's Service" falls a bit flat, with Fallon pairing an adult contemporary approach with London imagery of "Watson." It's not a bad song per se, and it certainly sees Fallon spreading his subgenere wings, but it just doesn't connect.
The highs are so damn high, and the lows so low. For all Fallon's talk of love and loss, he's so damn earnest you buy into nearly all of it. That's a rare skill in this rock landscape.