I still remember the first time I heard Jonny Craig sing. It was a Myspace stream of Dance Gavin Dance’s “So I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman”. I vividly remember having to pause the song about 1 minute in and collect my thoughts. I had literally ever heard anything like it.
Fast forward to 2009, and Jonny Craig has spent the last 2 years as the underground version of a tabloid regular. After being fired from Dance Gavin Dance in 2007 amidst lurid tales of substance abuse (and worse), he quickly joined post-hardcore band Emarosa. While touring heavily on the strength of Emarosa’s debut record “Relativity”, he has also found time to record a debut solo album.
“A Dream Is A Question You Don’t Know How To Answer” could have ended up as a mere showcase for Craig’s astonishing voice. With an upper register sounding eerily like Michael Jackson, it is a voice that could quite easily carry a record on its own. Pleasingly though, this record is much more than that.
Producer du-jour Kris Crummett (Dance Gavin Dance, Emarosa, Closure In Moscow, etc) also shares writing credits with Craig on the record, and shows himself to be an expert songwriter as well as a great producer. The songs carry a strong rhythm and blues feel, but never stray into sounding generic or commercial. Some great cameos, most notably Closure In Moscow’s Michael Barrett on guitar on “What I Would Give To Be Australian” serve to mix things up and ensure that the songs retain distinct identities.
With Jonny Craig and Kris Crummett working together, though, it was always certain that the album would sound great. The pleasant surprise with this record is Craig’s lyrics. As all great solo records do, the album exposes a side of the singer not as evident in his work in his various bands. These lyrics are at times intensely personal, and when you’ve lived a life like Jonny Craig has, that makes for some very raw themes. “7am, 2 Bottles And The Wrong Road” speaks, with frank honesty, of the struggles with temptation that come with fame, while “I’m Jonny Craig Bitch And I Drive In Reverse” seems to address his drug and alcohol use with its repeated refrain “take all these pleasures away, for I have sinned”. The lyrical approach of the record, combined with the timing of its release (coming, as it does, at a time when Craig has publicly reconciled his differences with Dance Gavin Dance members) gives it a feeling of being like a full stop to a period of the singer’s life.
It is the album’s parting shot, however, that lands the most telling blow. Reportedly written about a former girlfriend who sought to convince him that he fathered her child, Craig’s lyrics in “Children Of Divorce” come across as fearless – as if having been written without regard for how people may judge him. The line “I never planned to carry your burdens, but this child was a mistake” could be taken as callous and vindictive, but read in context seems to give voice to a deep sadness and confusion. The final line of the song, “maybe one day, she will know my name”, is as far from being callous as possible – a beautifully eloquent summation of the feeling of hopelessness created by the loss of contact with a child.
Far from being a simple vehicle for Jonny Craig’s vocal talents, “A Dream Is A Question You Don’t Know How To Answer” is a record that lays bare the singer’s troubled past but has a consistently hopeful feel that ensures it never becomes overburdened with woe-is-me melodrama. “Highly recommended” doesn’t even come close.
Listen to Jonny Craig HERE