Happiness Is, the new album from Taking Back Sunday, is as much a return to form as it is an evolution of their self-titled record. As the third album to feature the band’s ‘classic’ line-up, Happiness Is is more paced than its recent predecessors and sounds more in line as a spiritual successor to Tell All Your Friends than any other album the band has released.
While it doesn’t pack the energy or punch of an album like Louder Now, Taking Back Sunday has arguably put together their most cohesive record to date.
TBS have gone back to the basics for Happiness Is, taking their time to build strong and layered songs that cap with a hugely rewarding payoff instead of a power hungry punk record. It’s the most mature the band have sounded in their career and a full step ahead of their self-titled. Happiness Is can be off-putting at times, as it really does bring back memories of early TBS, as well as some of the best aspects of old-time rivals Brand New.
Musically, the band is much more patient, drawing out their songs systematically for the long haul. “It Takes More” sits in the middle of the album and is a slower paced song for TBS. Lead single “Flicker, Fade” always felt a bit off for me, and an odd choice to lead the album until put into context. The short “Preface” that starts the record off is a minute and a half instrumental build-up that leads into “Flicker, Fade” that demonstrates the pace as perfectly as you could hope.
That’s not to say that the album doesn’t pull all of its punches. The second half of the record is much faster, with songs like “They Don’t Have Any Friends”, which sounds like it was ripped straight from Where You Want to Be and offers some of the best dueling vocals between Lazzara and Nolan.
“We Were Younger Then” offers a rock song at a quicker pace before it slows down for a gentle break down, with Lazzara crooning over lost memories, singing, “Only in pictures before have I seen, anything left from where I am standing” over and over through the song’s finale.
Once again, Adam Lazzara and John Nolan play off of each other magnificently. Lazzara shows off his vocal range to great degree, from gentle croons to shouting during songs like “Better Homes and Gardens”, where he shows his desperation and pain when he sings, “When you took that ring off, threw it at your feet, you didn’t say a word much less look at me”. The variety and energy in his voice is that of a rock star as he toys with every note in his range throughout the album.
Nolan plays a perfect secondary singer in that he never feels forced or trying to upstage the songs. Instead, he stays hidden for the most part until a chorus, where he picks and chooses the exact moments to quietly shout from the back. It keeps him from becoming tiring and instead makes him the booster that Lazzara needs to make the song pop.
Happiness Is is the comeback album we’ve been wanting since the original line-up announced that they were getting back together. It shows the strength of the band as a whole and tends to pick some of the best aspects of their past albums to create a sound that is both a natural evolution as well as a nostalgic reflex as to why they became so aggressively popular in the first place.
Happiness Is isn’t perfect, but it’s much more fine-tuned than Taking Back Sunday could’ve hoped to have been. It won’t replace Tell All Your Friends as the go-to album for fans, but will definitely be one of the showcases for why the band has stayed so relevant in the scene throughout the years.
by Kyle Schultz