The relationships amongst the members of Long Island rock quintet Taking Back Sunday could quite easily be compared to a crackling live wire—rather dangerous, yet oddly captivating and exciting. Even aside from the infamous departure of guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper in 2003, the band’s revolving door of supporting cast has served to create a list of players who are now household names in their own right due to their time in the band (see: Fred Mascherino, Jesse Lacey, Matt Rubano, Matt Fazzi). All the while, the volatile inner workings of the band have served to create a myriad of outcomes, be it the explosive 2002 debut Tell All Your Friends, the mainstream breakthrough of 2006’s Louder Now, or the shockingly disappointing 2009 outing New Again. When the startling announcement came early last year that Nolan and Cooper had rejoined the band in a reunion for the ages, the excitement was palpable and expectations began to run wild. Could it be possible that the lineup that created one of post-punk’s landmark albums recapture that same fire a whopping nine years later?
Despite the hopes of many an Internet fanboy, Taking Back Sunday is not Tell All Your Friends: Part Deux, but here’s the good news: that’s a good thing. Sure, the band’s debut is a classic, but one of the things that makes it so special is that it captures the emotion and angst of post-teen youth in a way that very few other emo albums over the course of the past decade could. Its authenticity can still be felt all these years later each time the record is spun, but that authenticity could in no way translate onto tape today for a band mostly in their late 20s and early 30s. Instead, Taking Back Sunday harnesses a different kind of authenticity, a musical honesty and a snapshot of adult reality, be it broken/mended relationships, life struggles, or even the birth of a child.
On the band’s latest work, Nolan and Cooper combine with old mates Adam Lazzara (vocals), Eddie Reyes (guitar), and Mark O’Connell (drums) to create an album that singlehandedly revives a band that looked to be on the brink of extinction. Lazzara’s vocal work hasn’t sounded this good in years as he bursts out of the gate with the furious “El Paso”, a track which finds him shouting “You’ll never give what you get” with more passion than you’ll find anywhere on New Again. Meanwhile, album highlight “Best Places to Be a Mom” sounds like the best throwback track the band could ever write, and “This Is All Now” features a soaring chorus and incredible songwriting throughout. The much-beloved harmonies and call/response vocals between Lazzara and Nolan may not be as plentiful as they were on Tell All Your Friends, but their placement is perfect throughout the record as the two create a beautiful combination that serves as a reminder of what made this band so special in the first place.
The rest of the band doesn’t sound too shabby either. Gone are the uninspired riffs that plagued their last release and returned is the aggressive sound of a band with a point to make. Reyes and Nolan drive fast-paced numbers like “Money (Let It Go)” and “You Got Me”, but they’re also able to slow things down when necessary for anthems like “Faith (When I Let You Down)” and “Since You’re Gone”. Longtime drummer O’Connell handles the skins well, pushing himself outside his norm on “El Paso”, while Cooper’s return on bass feels natural and efficient. The band’s only real missteps on Taking Back Sunday come in the form of odd pacing. Weird, jerky transitions in the album’s flow come in the form of “Sad Savior” and “Who Are You Anway”, which momentarily throw off the up-tempo movement before “Money (Let it Go)” too-quickly pulls the pace back in the other direction. These flaws are easily overlooked by the album’s end, though, and are far from past blemishes that scarred some of the band’s more recent output.
Taking Back Sunday is a story of redemption, proving that old friendships can be mended and that past dreams can be re-imagined. While this latest work may not meet the wild expectations of many long-time fans who yearn for a return to band’s early glory days, it should be taken for what it is, as this current Taking Back Sunday is once again a new animal. Hollywood seeks to reignite old stories that have grown sluggish through the idea of a “reboot”. If ever a band was in need of the same treatment, it was Taking Back Sunday. It’s only fitting that the band’s own revival features the members that began the story in the first place. Let’s hope that this time around the lineup remains intact and that the story finishes with a happy ending.
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// Notes from the Road
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