The Horrible Crowes are comprised of The Gaslight Anthem frontman, singer and main songwriter Brian Fallon and the British musician Ian Perkins, who has worked as a roadie for The Gaslight Anthem. The idea behind the new grouping was for The Horrible Crowes to move away from the Springsteen-indebted pop-punk of The Gaslight Anthem in favor of a darker sound inspired by Tom Waits, Nick Cave and The Afghan Whigs.
Fallon is the main songwriter for both bands and his songwriting style is apparently too well-defined for it to move very far away from what he has been writing for The Gaslight Anthem. Gone is the poppy punk sound that permeates so much of The Gaslight Anthem’s work though, replaced with a slower and more specific singer-songwriter sound backing Fallon’s voice and lyrics, but hardly going to the extremes that the claimed inspirations have reached throughout their careers. This may also be related to the fact that the musicians during the sessions for Elsie consisted at least partly of the same ones that play on The Gaslight Anthem’s records, explaining why the songs did not move as far away from that sound as they could have done.
The songwriting throughout the album is strong and the performances are tight, with Fallon clearly growing more confident as a vocalist, but the very clear production at times makes the album seem a bit too slick. Only one track on the album could sit comfortably on a Gaslight Anthem album, “Go Tell Everybody,” with the rest showing a definite departure from the style of Fallon’s main project although his voice as a writer shines through clearly. There are little touches of influences from other genres all over the album, with the organ lines shining throughout the album, giving the tracks a slightly old school soul feel.
By the end of the first listen one is left feeling a slightly disappointed after the comparisons to Waits and Cave, but in the end this would be an extremely unfair way to judge a record and repeated listens reveal how strong Elsie really is. While a more harder-edged and rougher sound certainly could have upped the ante a bit and helped the songwriting talents of Brian Fallon reach a wider audience that would most likely have required an entirely new band, and this is after all “only” a side-project – but it’s a very fine one, worthy of attention from both newcomers and already converted.