A bunch of months ago I wrote a little something about Taking Back Sunday lead guitarist John Nolan‘s new solo album project in collaboration with PledgeMusic and about how the whole thing really got me excited and all. Well, as you all know time goes by really fast and we’ve eventually come to the point when John officially released his second full-length album entitled Sad, Strange, Beautiful Dream through a jointed partnership between the aforementioned crowdsourcing music platform and Collective Confusion Records, who’s primarily taking care of the physical copies of the release. Besides the amount of cool stuff worth a mention related to the chosen promotional strategy, such as the variety of pre-ordering packages or the fact that 10% of all the money collected through the album’s sale will be donated to a pediatric facility in Memphis, TN (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), I’ve now taken some time to give the full record, released digitally yesterday 24th July, a proper listen and I feel like I’ve got something to say about it. Also, it kinda makes sense to follow up on the matter on a more technical-musical note, doesn’t it?
John already unveiled a number of tracks over the course of the pre-release period, such as album opener and teenage era-teller “American Nightclub 1999”, the brilliantly titled – but possibly less convincing arrangement – “Drinking Your Way to Confidence” as well as existential-ballad “How Much”, although this latter one went through a substantive sound-polishing if compared to the early released version and arguably became the absolute best track on the record, mixing terrific melodic songwriting with a perfectly raw-edgy instrumentation delivering an immersive sappy feeling (How much can we control? / I don’t know / As much as we can). A little less than a month ago John then released the mastered version of the sparkling and lyrically-terrifying “Street Robbery Blues”, undoubtedly the most energetic and fast tune on the whole album entailing a very interesting uplifting-dark juxtaposition between the lyrics and the music itself. Yet, with the exception made of “How Much”, the best material on the album was not revealed until its full release.
“War is Peace” leads the list of never-heard-before songs on the album and immediately feels like it could have been born out of a raw idea for a Taking Back Sunday song, presenting a properly distorted rock band-modus instrumental base alongside a galloping tempo. The track is followed by the folky-acoustic “Next to You (In New Orleans)”, which probably depicts the lowest point of the record as it results incapable of really taking off in its own terms. The provisional down-status is suddenly mightily overcome with a consecutive couple of triumphant songs that really stand out on the whole. “I’ll Be Home Soon” is a piano-led ballad that truly gets under the listener’s skin and also delivers a quite catchy chorus, something that’s absolutely not to be taken for granted when it comes to slowed down ballads: well done John. It follows the album’s title track, which in some ways does sound a little out of context with its abundance of synth-fillings and indie-pop dyeing but which, after a few listens, already begins to make sense again, not least because it does really encompass traces of sadness, strangeness and beauty in a dreamy atmosphere. After a re-interpretation of 2012 track “C’est Le Fin Du Monde”, originally released on a split 7″ with indie rock band Mansions and the sonic perfection of the previously mentioned “How Much”, John Nolan’s second solo album comes to a close with the brilliant “I Will Be Released”, a sing-along choir anthem curiously and romantically written with his wife Camille.
In a way it’s truly funny and misleading to read on his artist’s description on PledgeMusic that he’s being labelled as folk-acoustic musician, because Sad, Strange, Beautiful Dream seems to confirm he’s actually not, and even at the times when he probably is, the record feels the most vulnerable (cf. “Next to You”). Given the quality of this last effort, he should feel no shame at all to confidently present himself as a modern alternative-rock act, not least given the mighty studio collaborations he took advantage of during the recording process. Yet, tags and label don’t really matter at all as soon as one realises where musical quality lies and that it shouldn’t be constrained by arbitrary boundaries at all. This is precisely what John Nolan has apparently come to realise with this record: with precious songwriting, instrumental rawness, lyrical honesty, and a little experimentation he’s delivered his best musical outcome to date.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
“SAD, STRANGE, BEAUTIFUL DREAM”
2015, COLLECTIVE CONFUSION RECORDS