Not too long ago, Brian Fallon sounded like he was broken. Get Hurt, The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth (and as-yet, last) album, sounded like a band on its last legs. Written and recorded in the wake of a grueling, never-ending tour schedule—as well as Fallon’s divorce from his first wife—Get Hurt felt like the end of something. When Fallon resurfaced on 2015’s Painkillers, his solo debut, he was retreating from the fallout of it all. “I don’t want to survive/I want a wonderful life” he sang in the first single, but the most revealing line came on the closing track: “You can’t make me whole/I have to find that on my own.” That song, and that album as a whole, were the sounds of a man whose recovery was still a work in progress.
Sleepwalkers, Fallon’s sophomore solo LP, is the natural conclusion to the trilogy that began on Get Hurt. It’s also the most wholly satisfying album of the three, blowing up an array of different influences to make the most vibrant, lively LP that Fallon has put his name on since the early Gaslight Anthem days.
There aren’t many people in music right now who are under more pressure than Brian Fallon. Labeled as the torchbearer of the classic rock tradition upon the release of 2008’s The ’59 Sound—the sophomore album from his Jersey-based quartet, The Gaslight Anthem—Fallon has spent the better part of his career not just having to live up to the quality of his own albums and songs, but to his idols as well. A lot of people got into Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan after hearing consistent references to each in Gaslight’s early music. In fact, Gaslight’s legacy got so entwined in the “inspired by Springsteen” narrative that fans started requesting Bruce songs at shows. Even Fallon’s side project, the Horrible Crowes, got whipped up in the Springsteen tornado, drawing at least a handful of parallels to Nebraska. Let’s be honest: figuring out a way to live up to an album as terrific as The ’59 Sound is hard enough. Doing it when everyone is comparing your stuff to albums like Born to Run and Damn the Torpedoes is just downright unfair.