this is a weird review, full of high praise, yet some harsh criticisms too
The Gonzaga Bulletin
Second coming of The Boss on ‘Elsie’
By Nick Merchant
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
At this point in his career, Brian Fallon might as well just get "The Next Springsteen" tattooed on his forehead.
As frontman for the punk band The Gaslight Anthem, Fallon has channeled his inner Boss over the course of three excellent records. Fallon often shares Springsteen's lyrical enthusiasm for Jersey, girls and the back seats of cars. Like Springsteen, Fallon's songs can be loud and brash or somber and slow; but the lyrics always paint detailed scenarios of hardship and young love.
Which brings us to The Horrible Crowes, Fallon's new solo side project with Gaslight guitar tech Ian Perkins. The duo's first album "Elsie" is a stripped-down collection of solemn tunes. If Fallon is indeed following in Springsteen's footsteps, this is his "Nebraska."
Without his punker band mates, Fallon's voice and even more importantly his songwriting, become the main attraction. On "Elsie," Fallon's voice, hovers somewhere between Tom Waits and The Replacements' Paul Westerberg. Which is to say, it's shouty and gravelly, but also full of pain and expression.
On past Gaslight releases, Fallon could cover up a subpar lyric with a chunky guitar blast. "Elsie" pushes his songwriting up, front and center. It's safe to say that he more than steps up to the plate. Fallon's lyrics carry a level of detail and imagery that's unmatched in rock music today. His character isn't just well -dressed; he's "been known to wear a fine black suit and a murder of a tie." Even Fallon's throwaway one-liners are gold, such as "I age by years at the mention of your name" from "Behold the Hurricane."
The problem with the record is that we aren't used to hearing Fallon's ballads one after the other. On the Gaslight Anthem's superb 2008 record "The '59 Sound," Fallon's slow-burners offered a relief from the band's harder-hitting, Clash-like numbers. This time around, it's almost entirely stripped-down tunes. This causes "Elsie" to sometimes feel like it is too much calm and not enough storm.
Musically, the album ends up sounding like a wimpier version of Fallon's other band. He never goes full "Nebraska," choosing instead to waver between acoustic numbers and a few tracks that pack some energy, but nothing that compares to Gaslight's full-on punk assault. This makes "Elsie" an uneven listen with some fantastic highs, but also some really boring lows.
"Mary Ann" serves up Fallon's signature howl over layered guitars and the loudest drumbeat on the album. The lyrics tell a story of a girl who remains rock steady even in the face of biblical apocalypse, Fallon-style, "Look out below the hurricane comes near/The water's all poison and they're showing their teeth."
Early in the album, Fallon shows off his wide array of styles on "I Think I Witnessed a Crime." Powered by a fantastic lead organ and a driving bass line, it calls to mind both Tom Waits and Jackson Browne. The song benefits from being the only cut on the album that makes you want to bounce around instead of curl up in a ball on your floor.
On the other end of the spectrum, "Cherry Blossoms" is a real snoozer. Backed by a snail's pace drumbeat, Fallon contemplates driving his car off a bridge to spite his lover. Your finger is sure to trigger the next button before Fallon's narrator ever meets his icy end.
Ultimately, "Elsie" is what a debut solo record from an up-and-coming rocker should sound like. It's full of experimentation, and for every misstep, there's a bright shining moment. Fallon may not have reached "The Promised Land" yet, but he's on his way.