Yes, John Nolan and Shaun Cooper are back in Taking Back Sunday. It’s been known for over a year now, yet seems to be the focal point of every review, despite the fact that the album contains little to no influence from the only record that incarnation of the band produced. Taking Back Sunday would have benefited best by releasing the album under a different name, let alone a self-titled effort, as they would avoid all the purists who want to hear grown men sing about hanging pictures up on their lockers. The band all but abandons the emo tags they were given early in their career and have adopted a more modern, alternative rock sound. While it’s not my favorite record by the band, it is far better than anything they’ve released in years and is an extremely catchy, fun record.
The album opens with the most polarizing track, as it is one of the heaviest the band has ever done, with instrumentation unlike anything they have tried before. Many fans have stated both their love and hate for “El Paso,” where the band first began demoing songs. While I don’t love it, it is an interesting track that I don’t find myself ever skipping. The sheer power used by Adam Lazzara and John Nolan as they shred their vocal chords entices me. Also, as a fan of Nirvana, the strumming behind the nut of the guitar in the verses sends pleasant chills up my spine. For those who dislike it, fear not, as there isn’t a similar track found on the remainder of Taking Back Sunday. “Best Places to Be a Mom” was released as the first track from the album for good reason. It’s perfect for fans hoping to hear something similar to the early days of the band. It’s one of the more Nolan-heavy tracks on the record, as he delivers an especially strong performance vocally. Also notable is Mark O’Connell’s always powerful drumming.
“Who Are You Anyway?” the fifth song, may be one of my favorite Taking Back Sunday songs. The electronic-esque beginning and slinky verses contrast the heavy chorus extremely well. Lazzara delivers extremely well in the chorus, backed by his right-hand man Nolan admirably. Unfortunately, this strong run of songs is stopped by “Money (Let It Go),” which sinks into the company of “Cut Me Up Jenny” as one of the most dreadful songs produced by the band. Shaun Cooper’s funky, fuzzy bass line is wasted on an uninspired, cheesy song that would be on the lower half of New Again. Thankfully, it’s followed by the Nolan-penned “This Is All Now,” which features a tremendously catchy beat from O’Connell and one of Lazzara’s strongest performances in years. Nolan is the clear star on this track, however, with everything about the song screaming his name. For TBS fans who have always been Nolan fans, this is the song for you. Closer “Call Me in the Morning” is the perfect ending track, complete with pinch-harmonics and the tricks Nolan learned during his tenure with Straylight Run. The song is the closest to a power ballad the band has recorded since the b-side “Your Own Disaster.” It’s a new direction for the band and they deliver well.
The demo disk from the pre-order package that sold out on the band’s website contains six tracks, three from the El Paso sessions and three from the sessions with Valentine. Most of them make sense being left off the record as they don’t fit with the tone of the record, despite being quality tracks. However, two songs are extremely strong ones that I hope find the light of day on the next record in finished form. “Morning Sickness” is the only TBS song that can be described as atmospheric, complete with Rhodes piano and searing riffs from Nolan. That element, along with lyrics from “Didn’t See That Coming” and “You Got Me,” delivered powerfully by Lazzara, make it one of my favorite songs by the band. Then there’s “You Should Have Waited,” the re-worked version of the old “Baby, Your Beard Hurts” demo. Many have complained that the original version wasn’t kept, but I prefer the Saosin-sounding final product.
Taking Back Sunday has shifted from a bunch of tweens swinging mics over emo/post-hardcore to a group of adults crafting modern rock while…erm…still swinging mics. It seems despite all the lineup changes and drama, some things never change. Thankfully, the change in the band’s sound has yielded one of the band’s best albums since their beginning, stopping their skid into mediocrity dead in its tracks.