We can’t talk about Taking Back Sunday without bringing up their 2002 debut Tell All Your Friends and it’s impact on kids of that particular era. It’s an album of heartbreak, emotion and angst. It didn’t only play a big part in making emo music commercially relevant, but it also resonated with every kid feeling betrayed or manipulated by the desire of companionship. With an album so close to the heart, it was obvious each of their albums would be held to ridiculously high standards.
For the most part, those standards have been met both critically and financially.
Taking Back Sunday is one of the few bands to survive the emo movement and continuously tour with newly released music every couple of years.
They’ve experienced lineup drama and label changes like any other commercially successful band, but stayed consistent enough not to fall victim to the downward spiral of nostalgia tours or the soft ticket circuit.
With constant pressure to live up to fan expectations, there hasn’t been a lot of room for them to fall into a comfort zone. Consequently, the band has to prove themselves with each new release. A dramatic lineup change came with 2004’s Where You Want To Be. Meanwhile, 2006’s Louder Now was their major-label debut and had a Top 40 hit. There was yet another lineup change on 2009’s New Again, which heralded a shift in an even more commercial direction. But since 2011’s self-titled album, TBS has stuck to their classic lineup, and their 2014 album Happiness Is was the first time they’d the line up for three consecutive albums. As if to prove themselves to the fans yet again, they released it through an indie label.
So here we are at the release of Taking Back Sunday’s seventh album Tidal Wave and for the first time in nearly twenty years, the band has finally been given the opportunity to experiment and fine tune their craft without being held captive by preconceptions or feeling the need to prove their worth.
With the somber vibes of their previous record, some fans (myself included) became worried the band was tired, getting old, or losing their punk rock edge. But when the record opened with the rapid fire fury of “Death Wolf,” those assumptions were tossed out the window. Both the frantic back and forth vocals between John Nolan and Adam Lazzara, and the cascading guitars are back and firing on all cylinders. It signifies a triumphant return of energy and angst, something missing since the previous decade.
Even though Taking Back Sunday has returned to their rock roots, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tidal Wave is a step backward.
The new found maturity of Happiness Is is still front and center on this record. Despite an overwhelming sense of urgency on every song, there’s almost no call backs to the band’s previous eras in terms of songwriting or production. Outside of sonic energy, every aspect of the album’s a progressive statement of a band moving forward.
In terms of instrumentation, it blows my mind to think how much each member of this band has progressed over the years. Mark O’Connell’s impeccable drumming has earned the MVP award more than any other member. Tidal Wave is no exception. Shaun Cooper’s grown so much as a bassist and has finally surpassed his previous replacements influence on the band’s commercial era. Although John Nolan sadly gets less vocal time on this go around, he more than makes up for it with his masterful guitar work. There’s all sorts of riffs and runs we’ve come to expect from him, but now there’s more room for solos and lead runs like never before.
Still, Tidal Wave‘s the greatest progression is Adam Lazzara’s vocals.
Looking back at previous releases, it always seemed like he was building up to something without reaching it. His vocal style’s always been Taking Back Sunday’s most distinctive aspect, but finally it feels like he’s found his footing. With more emphasis on melody and less on screaming, his vocal delivery is both clear and descriptive. it drives the point home on every single track, but with just enough imperfections to sound honest and real. It’s also good to hear him experimenting vocally, like on the title track where he sounds like Against Me! covering a Ramones song written by Tom Petty. It sounds weird on paper, but it works, oddly enough.
Speaking of honest and real, the production is spot on. Long time producer Mike Sapone (Brand New, O’ Brother) has found the perfect balance of raw garage rock and slick studio gloss. It makes the album sound larger than life on the rock tracks, but authentic and sensitive on the slower ones.
My only real complaint is the lack of excitement upon my first listen.
To be fair, every Taking Back Sunday record has been a grower since Louder Now, but you have to realize that record was a mainstream pop record. It was manufactured in such a way that every song could be released as a single, maximizing their commercial appeal. Tidal Wave isn’t a collection of singles, but an actual album with a cohesive tracklisting. At nearly an hour long, it might’ve run a bit smoother if a couple songs were shaved off. It doesn’t exactly ruin the experience, but a few songs weigh down the middle section a bit too much for my taste.
Without a real pop single, Tidal Wave may lack commercial appeal, but it’s an attempt at making a good album. It has the energy and urgency from the first three albums and features a mature, newly-found confidence. After seven albums, we’re finally hearing Taking Back Sunday be the band they’ve never had the chance to be – but always could’ve been. At this point, I can’t tell you how it ranks among my favorite albums of the year. But that’s okay. Tidal Wave is certainly one of Taking Back Sunday’s most satisfying releases to date.