“Most of this life’s been a drag of a high
And lows like a blow in a paid thrown title fight
Most of my sins were born in a kiss on a night like this
Calling all lonely hearts

Don’t you want a life like we saw on the picture show?
So come on, give me something, come on, keep me up all night

You say, my baby, all this time in between drives me crazy
I want a life on fire, going mad with desire
I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life.”

~A Wonderful Life
Brian Fallon, Painkillers

The new Brian Fallon solo record is out, and it’s everything I wanted “Get Hurt” to be.

Seriously. He should’ve released this years ago. 

Without his full band but never lacking in layers, “Painkillers” plays like the most distilled version of Fallon we’ve heard yet. His  references are familiar – tombs, cars, pills, they’re all here for the mixed metaphor party, and the chords are too. But I’ve still spent the whole day playing it over and over again, surrendering to the hooks of “Among Other Foolish Things” and “Rosemary” just like the tracks off “The ’59 Sound” once hooked me.

To me, this collection is the result of a songwriter’s efforts to define himself around the edges. His focus is still heartbreak in all its forms, and love in all its highs and lows. Most songs have a “been-there” attitude, run down and over it but still, somehow, crawling back for more. And while he tries some different things vocally, occasionally evoking Dylan in a throat-speak kind of way, nothing that he attempts is out of his range, or out of his zone, or out of his style. And as a result, the whole thing is really cohesive, and authentic, in ways that the more recent Gaslight Anthem records were lacking.

“Smoke,” “Nobody Wins” and “Honey Magnolia” are instant standouts after I’d already played the lead single, “A Wonderful Life,” to death over the past few weeks. The re-recordings of “Long Drives” and “Red Lights,” originally Molly and the Zombies tracks, are welcome in their revival, with a lot more harmonies and clearer guitar interplay to match the rest of the record style.  The record is littered with heart crushing lines: “Last night I remembered being 17 / I met a girl with a taste for the world and whisky and rites of spring.” As was the case with The Horrible Crowes, Fallon chooses to dress up his verse-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus sort of stucture with lots of fun auxiliary – a tambourine or piano is never far out of reach and “Painkillers” is all the more itneresting for it. In a lot of ways it feels like a return to his roots, and the Americana rock that built TGA’s fanbase.

As catchy as the solos can be, the star of the show, as I would’ve expected, is Brian Fallon’s exceptional capacity for self-reflective storylines. The best lines are when he’s alone struggling with his demons, drowning in dreams and getting drunk on the look of a lover. These scenes are repeated time and time again in all his work, and I have to wonder if these are real people he knows, or just characters he’s invented in their image. Maybe a little bit of both. I do not know if “Painkillers” will draw any new fans Fallon’s way, but for the diehards, it is a welcome, familiar taste, a new spin on the same old imagery and a perfectly sad, sweet, stylized indulgence.

“But you said
I’m alright Baby I don’t mind
I’ll get on just fine
on them long long drives.”

~Long Drive
Brian Fallon, Painkillers