I feel a little bit sorry for Taking Back Sunday. Sure, I enjoy all of their records, love seeing the band live, and – just like they probably are – am overwhelmed by their fans’ uncompromising support, and all of that’s great on both sides. But ever since Tell All Your Friends came out in 2002 and stole the hearts of kids across the country, the group has had insane expectations to meet. Every time they come out with an album, I feel like many still bring up the same excuse: “It’s not [as good as] Tell All Your Friends.” But in 2014, Taking Back Sunday is attempting to prove the doubters with an album that’s just as much a throwback as it is an advancement. Happiness Is is a momentous record that feeds on passion-filled sonic qualities and rock vibes.
From one full listen to Happiness, it’s obvious that the band worked hard to overcome the biggest weaknesses of their self-titled record (the first album since the group’s original lineup came back together). This meant revamping their sound; boring, lackadaisical melodies needed to go, and conscious rage needed to fill every single note. And most of the tracks are exhilarating. “Flicker, Fade” finds vocalist Adam Lazzara taking full control, with an arena rock stupor clinging to the band’s punk underbelly. Then there’s the supremely zealous thrill ride of “Beat Up Car”, which boasts the most interesting guitar riffs and bass lines the quintet has written in years.
Still, one big problem exists within the album’s whole. You can tell the band’s trying to make the record sound inspired; the root sensation is definitely there. But what is up for discussion is their execution of inspiration. Some songs feel a bit incomplete. Some slide by without regards to their content — especially the lyrics. Not only is this one of the least connective Taking Back Sunday LPs lyrically, but it’s also full of a lot of forgettable moments. “It Takes More” barely makes an impression, while “We Were Younger Then” is a pseudo-anthem, playing off sensible melodies in a generally stark form. It’s obvious that the weaker songs are far weaker and contain much less replay value in comparison to the better, more fleshed out ones.
But that’s okay, because in comparison to the lacking bits, the memorable material is superb, and the instrumentation is nothing short of spectacular. Whether it’s the power of the guitars complementing Lazzara’s arbitrary vocals, Mark O’Connell’s impeccable drumming, or the rock-fueled passion that drives the album, Happiness Is is arguably the band’s most intriguing listen since Louder Now. Much of that is because of the record’s ardent core; they crafted a set of songs that are a blaze of dense musical fury. There are songs of pure bliss like the upbeat rocker “Stood a Chance”, and then there are deeply resonant tracks like the pop-meets-punk “Better Homes and Gardens”, a song that uses John Nolan’s voice and tender guitars to draw in old-school listeners. There’s something for everyone — the old-school emo fans, the casual rock listeners, and even the music enthusiasts who tend to overthink everything (like me).
Happiness Is feels like the awakening of an identity. It’s a brute force that some haven’t felt since 2002. But it’s also something new and inviting, and through its mess of sounds and ideas, that’s the true appeal of this album. It’s all over the place, but – more often than not – it’s beautiful in doing so. Though Taking Back Sunday was back in 2011, their return didn’t have a full impact right away. It needed time. Fortunately, more of that impact is being made now with the 11 vibe-powered tracks on Happiness Is, and hopefully, there’s even more to come.
Rock/Punk | Hopeless Records