Secret Meeting score: 68
by Phil Scarisbrick
When The Gaslight Anthem introduced themselves to the world a decade ago with debut album Sink or Swim, they gained a devoted following for the kind of fists-in-the-air, blue collar American rock that made fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen a global superstar. Later this year, they will reform to play their most successful album, The 59 Sound in full on a world tour. Before then though, frontman Brian Fallon has released his second solo album Sleepwalkers.
Those hoping the record will feel familiar to fans of his work with his former band may be disappointed. What they’re getting though is an album with more depth both musically and lyrically. Opening with the sound of a Vox Continental organ underpinning a swinging guitar line, If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven sets the gospel/R&B tone that continues throughout the record. Forget Me Not is a garage rocker that you could imagine sound-tracking a scene from Happy Days – with hand claps and call-and-answer lyrics, it is charmingly derivative.
Rock ballad, Etta James, teeters on the edge of Meatloaf cheesiness with some clichéd lyrical nods and a familiar chord sequence. In the context of the record as a whole though, it seems to work. Sitting in the middle, Proof of Life is a folk song that proves Fallon’s pedigree for classic American songwriting. Built around a mandolin and thumping percussion, he evokes some of his country’s great writers in what is the record’s finest moment.
The Gaslight Anthem always wore their nostalgia on the sleeves of their plain white t-shirts, and although this album has that same feeling, it is a different sort of nostalgia. The decision to anchor it with organ provides elevation – the 50’s Americana of his previous work giving way to sounds that evoke artists like Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. He will never get away from his first love though and the Springsteen influence is clear throughout. It’s a shame then that he feels the need to revisit The 59 Sound, as the music he is making now is more interesting. The old influences are still there, but they’re now joined by some very welcome additions.