It seems like a long time ago that I first heard of John Nolan.
As the guitarist/singer/song-writer of Long Island legends Taking Back Sunday I was enamoured with his work, when he left, I like many fans, eagerly awaited what he would do next. Sure Taking Back Sunday became a different band afterwards, but you could tell it was still TBS, John Nolan took a huge leap in a different direction. Straylight Run were not, nor could they ever be, compared to Taking Back Sunday, they were their own band, an indie-piano pop group who, despite critical acclaim, lacked the commercial success that afflicted TBS in the post-Nolan years.
With Straylight Run still active, a solo album from Nolan seems slightly unexpected, but this is not a TBS to Straylight Run style departure, this is clearly the music that Nolan has grown into and that he wants to play. It is eerily close to Straylight Run, though without the prominent piano that dominated Straylight’s debut album. First single, Til It’s Done To Death is a sure fire winner, that has echoes of The Needles, The Space-era Straylight Run. It’s a good single with a solid hook, it deserves to get radio play, and with a new video in the offing, it should do well on MTV.
Unfortunately, that is the best this album can produce. It is ultimately a disappointing album. Nolan is still a talented song writer, but he displays that only in flashes on Height. I can only assume that Nolan has tried to make an obtuse indie album, but all he has succeeded in doing is creating one that is devoid of any memorable features, save for a few lyrical flourishes. Screaming Into The Wind makes use of guttural throat noises as an instrument, sparse drumming and distorted synth, but seems to forget that a song needs some form of hook. When Nolan goes back to his trusty acoustic guitar, it sounds too much like a Straylight Run b-side album. Nolan’s attempted experimental nature on this album often seems forced and out of place, the awkward synth line in I Don’t Believe You sums this up better than I could in words. Often the experimental nature of the songs detract from the basic song and leave you wishing that Nolan would have scaled back the production a touch, or at least that the producer would have told him to calm down with the instruments or layers.
Nolan has unfortunately created what is a poor album, not just by his high standards, but just fundamentally, a poor album. Nolan would have been better suited either going for an acoustic singer-songwriter album or assembling a band that did not sound as similar to Straylight Run.