Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The Horrible Crowes are Brian Fallon, singer of The Gaslight Anthem, and Ian Perkins, Brian's guitar tech. They undertook this side project early this year, during the American Slang tour. I gotta admit, this took a couple of full listens before it finally got to me, and when it did, it was like the heavens opened up. Initially I couldn't really picture Brian doing songs like these. Of course I didn't expect any of them to sound like Gaslight, but still the whole thing was quite a departure away from what we're used to listening from him. And it's clear-cut right from the start -- the short, appropriate Last Rites is an invitation into the record. Already the words suggest that we're in for a dark ride:

Start up the car, bury your memories.
Call on your lovers, speaking slow and heavy.
Call up your boyfriends, from out by the ocean,
while I get my last rites read by a thief...

The mood carries over into the break-up ballad, Sugar, which sounds to me like a distant cousin of Here's Looking At You Kid, in a good way. This is perhaps Brian's most tender vocals, but he sings with an almost bad intention. I agree with some fans that if a popular female R&B singer were to cover this, it would easily become a hit. But it's that sort of unpolished singing that makes Sugar so wonderful to listen to. Best song on the album. Behold The Hurricane is all about grandeur, a mid-tempo rocker which wouldn't be out of place on The '59 Sound. It's got fantastic one-liners, which the whole record is chalked full of, one-liners that speaks volumes about Brian's lyrical ability, a huge step-up from American Slang. The way he sings the bridge ("I heard the moon has visions of her nightly") gets me everytime. And the chorus line, "Be still my heart, I age by years at the mention of your name" kinda sums up what the song is about.

I Witnessed A Crime has grown considerably on me; a reggae-inspired organ-driven rhythm, with some pretty dark lines. And the track flow from here is just so right, from the resentful Go Tell Everybody, to the quiet but passionate Cherry Blossoms, and then to Ladykiller, with words that remind me of some of the most bitter lines from Backstreets. Crush is an interesting one; it contains an average melody that surprisingly complements well a great set of lyrics, and a spine-chilling outro ("sometimes I'm up lord and sometimes I'm down, sometimes I'm almost level with the ground"). Some of the most angry stuff can be heard in Mary Ann, Black Betty & The Moon and Blood Loss, all dealing with different things. To really feel it, listen to this record loud at night and you'll almost feel scared as Brian sings/yells directly at you.

The closing track, I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together is the equivalent of how American Slang closes with We Did It When We Were Young. In some ways it ties the whole record together, a reminiscence of sorts, but also marking the end of a particular relationship. Elsie is considered as Brian's introspective singer-songwriter record; if Gaslight was more Bruce Springsteen, then this is more Tom Waits. The instrumentation is creative and gorgeous, incorporating sounds Brian weren't able to with his other band. Even the softest softs are just about as intense as anything Gaslight has ever done. Is this Brian's peak as a musician and songwriter? Absolutely without a doubt. The ultimate heartbreaker album of the year.