John Nolan - Sad Strange Beautiful Dream (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

John Nolan

Sad Strange Beautiful Dream (2015)


John Nolan seems far away from all the turmoil of the old Taking Back Sunday and Straylight Days. I expected the former to be bigger and better when he came back but it's been a disappointing ride since. I'll admit though that after taking some time, I realize that their musical direction's shifted with age and rightfully so. This has allowed Sad Strange Beautiful Dream to spread its wings and more so, it's a stark indictment of that maturity. It's nice to hear him leading you down a path of retrospection. If you loved Heights in 2009 or spotted potential in him as a solo act, this record will be quite pleasing.

He harps on a lot of life's issues and with a high pop sensibility but still, he wades in with a strong indie/DIY presence. I always liked his work outside of TBS, especially with Straylight Run, because he felt freer and less tethered to Adam Lazzara's stories. The indie/folky opener in "American Night Club 1999" riffs on his salad days and is similar in terms of musical structure to the closer "I Will Be Released". Both are acoustic-influenced ballads that tells his story from both ends of life's spectrum and wraps things nicely with a nice storytelling contrast. You've got bar-tunes, old-school rock and roll and in the case of beach/summer riffs, there's "Street Robbery Blues" to fiddle around with in between these songs, giving you a full glimpse into Nolan's life. I always felt Lazarra and Jim Adkins were guys who could leave their bands and still do pretty well but after hearing these tunes, Nolan's right up there also.

When he gets more sentimental, you sense he's channeling his inner-Johnny Cash. When he gets louder, it feels like he's addressing TBS fans. When he's mid-tempo/alternative/indie, a la "War Is Peace", it feels like Straylight. You really get to hear him expand on the bands' POVs in his own way. "I'll Be Home Soon" is another jam that feels like an ode to his sister, Michelle, from the Straylight days and it flows smartly into the electro-pop self-titled jam to reiterate how diverse and how risque Nolan wants to be. In fact, as the overall sombre theme sets in, it's not risk as much as it is real. Clearly, he's defining his life as chapters that have influenced the music he puts out and the music he wants to make. Sad Strange Beautiful Dream is him gently whispering the latter and emphasizing that he's older, worn-out but melodically so. A portion of the proceeds will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from album sales so there's that incentive also to do some good. Like I said, Nolan's nothing but class here...