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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John Nolan: Height

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

John Nolan has gotten the short end of the stick.

His former band Taking Back Sunday is living large after releasing three gold records (one of which he was a part of) and the band’s fourth album debuted at No. 7 on the billboard charts in June. It was their third straight album to debut in the top 10 on the billboard charts (the other two debuted at No. 3 and No. 2.) Earlier this summer they headlined The Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey, along side 50 Cent, in front of 30,000 people.

I love TBS and am very happy for their success, but it is clear that Nolan was the mastermind behind the group’s first and by far their best record, Tell All Your Friends. He penned most of the lyrics and provided about 30 percent of the vocals. The band hasn’t been and probably never will be the same since he left in 2003.

In 2004, Nolan formed Straylight Run with his sister Michelle Nolan, former TBS bassist Shaun Cooper and former Breaking Pangaea drummer Will Noon.

The band got off to a promising start just because of Nolan and Cooper’s affiliation with TBS but Straylight Run had a difficult time holding audiences with a style that was significantly different than TBS. It was much softer and more piano driven. After two albums, Straylight Run was dropped from their major label, Universal Records.

To add insult to injury, his own sister left the band.

On top of all this, Nolan’s former best friend, Jesse Lacey, the lead singer of Brand New, is living off his own band’s success as their new record, Daisy, just debuted at No. 6 on the billboard charts as their popularity continues to soar.

That leaves Nolan virtually by himself.

Nolan has kept busy on the Web throughout the past year, still releasing music digitally with his unsigned band. He also created a unique and satisfying fan collaboration contest where he allowed fans to send him instrumentals and he provided the vocals, all the songs from that project were released free on his Web site.

On Tuesday, he released his debut solo record, Height.

Height doesn’t sound much different from a Straylight Run record, although there are no female vocalists. Nolan’s wife however does contribute on the album as she plays piano on many of the songs.

Since leaving TBS, as I noted earlier, Nolan’s musical style has become more easy-listening, softer and often times upon first listen, his music comes off as boring.

When I first heard Straylight’s second record The Needles, The Space, I was so disappointed I put it on the back burner for months. I found it unfulfilling with no substance. Now I feel it is one of the more underrated records to be released in the past four or five years.

The feeling is similar after listening to Height for the first few times. It comes across as sort of dull as Nolan sings over acoustic guitars, soft piano laced tracks and some experimental instruments here and there.

Lyrically, Nolan has been much better on Straylight’s two records as well as their underrated EP, Prepare to be Wrong.

At this point, I guess I’m questioning why the need to release a solo record, when it sounds virtually the same as the band you’ve been with for the past six years and I can’t help but think it would have been better with the help from Noon and Cooper.

Not to say Height is bad, or even a regrettable purchase, but I would have rather seen Nolan spend his time writing and recording with his bandmates rather than work on solo material.

Whether Nolan sees any success from this solo record is highly in question. Nolan’s biggest downfall is something he cannot control. He will never live up to the expectations that were set for him once he left TBS after releasing Tell All Your Friends, and frankly, neither will TBS. And although TBS’s fans always complain and moan about Nolan no longer being in the band, they somehow forget to support Nolan’s other projects.

I know his style is vastly different from what people first expected out of him, but no one can deny Nolan is a talented artist. If you are down for easy-listening, acoustic or piano driven music, Nolan may be right up your alley.

No studio versions of any of the songs from Height were available online, so here are two videos where Nolan performs two songs off the record live with his wife.


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