Reflecting on: Taking Back Sunday – Where You Want to Be

Photo by Brian Appio

Throughout 2014, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

There’s apparently a very thin line between sophomore slump and comeback of the year – just ask Taking Back Sunday. Their 2004 album Where You Want to Be may be the most divisive album released in the scene in the past 10 years. Depending on whom you ask, the album is either the best release in the band’s catalogue and an emo classic, or it’s an absolute throwaway and marks the beginning of a downward spiral for the band.

While the debate rages on a decade later, one thing is for certain: Where You Want to Be served as a launching pad, thrusting Taking Back Sunday from underground to mainstream success and was a major player in the mid-2000s emo explosion.

But how good is the album in its own right? Let’s find out.

The case against Where You Want to Be

Taking Back Sunday’s debut, Tell All Your Friends is an undeniable classic. It took the scene by storm seemingly overnight with its manic energy, impassioned back-and-forth vocals from Adam Lazzara and John Nolan, and a sound that seemed to defy categorization. That debut was akin to a crackling livewire.

Where You Want to Be fails to fit the mold created by Taking Back Sunday two years prior. The departure of Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper undeniably left a void in the songwriting department, and although the addition of Fred Mascherino and Matt Rubano certainly added new strengths to the band, there’s no argument to be made that Lazzara shared the same creative connection with Mascherino as he did with Nolan.

That’s not to say that the songs on Where You Want to Be lack depth or emotion, but it’s a much more contained fire. That containment is even more pronounced due to the album’s production, handled by Lou Giordano, a man involved in breakout albums for bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Plain White T’s.

While Tell All Your Friends is a raw and rabid animal from start to finish, Where You Want to Be possesses a kind of sheen that makes songs like “A Decade Under the Influence” and “This Photograph is Proof” sound radio ready. There’s truly no denying the pop appeal of the album, nor the role that it played in the band’s crossover and eventual signing to Warner Bros.

For fans of the raw, bleeding-heart emotion of Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want to Be serves as the prime suspect for the band’s turn towards the alt-rock world and sold out arena tours. It signifies a band’s loss of innocence and hunger for commercial success. In the world of underground music, there’s truly no greater sin.

The case for Where You Want to Be

The beauty of Tell All Your Friends truly lives in the nostalgia – what that album meant at the time and the change it brought about. Several of the band members were in their late teens at the time of the album’s writing and recording, and it’s easy to tell upon spinning the record in 2014.

Yes, Tell All Your Friends is an absolute classic, an extraordinary debut and a game-changing record. But it also has its flaws, and to ask the band to write songs like “Bike Scene” for the rest of their career would be not only unjust, but also a death sentence. For Taking Back Sunday, growth meant taking a step towards a bigger pond and learning how to flex their songwriting muscles in a way that made sense for a band on the rise.

Where You Want to Be highlights this growth in nearly every conceivable way. A newly-found controlled chaos allows the band to build towards powerful moments within the album’s 11 tracks as opposed to living in a constant frenzy.

“One Eighty By Summer” serves as a prime example of this. The song refuses to follow any sort of predictable song structure, but excels in its ability to push the sound through the roof at the appropriate moments. The track features two crescendos filled with furious battles between Lazzara and Mascherino atop swelling guitars, with help from Eddie Reyes.

“Set Phasers to Sun” is an incredible opening track with powerful drumming from Mark O’Connell, an incredible guitar transition during the chorus from Mascherino, and the repeated cry of “I’m sorry it took me so long” from Lazzara during the song’s opening seconds. Within minutes, the song captures the essence of old Taking Back Sunday with a new pop appeal punch.

Whereas Tell All Your Friends often borders on the juvenile, Where You Want to Be shows real growth in songwriting, and its clear that Mascherino’s presence bolstered the band’s ability to push themselves in a more mature direction. To follow Lazzara’s lyrical journey is to follow the growth of the man himself. His words and performance on Where You Want to Be highlight a necessary step in the right direction.

Where You Want to Be may lack the rough-around-the-edges appeal of its predecessor, but it more than makes up for it by being a complete front-to-back experience of a band on the rise.

The verdict

In truth, these sorts of debates always boil down to subjective opinions based on taste and personal preference, but to me, Where You Want to Be should be considered a classic. To follow-up a generation-defining debut after losing two crucial members and still create such a buzz-worthy release is truly a feat worthy of praise.

The debate between Nolan and Mascherino will likely continue until the end of time, but perhaps there’s no debate necessary. Both are incredibly talented musicians and songwriters and both brought a completely different feel to the band. I think it’s clear that both possess worthy strengths and both have added much to Taking Back Sunday’s catalogue. The difference between Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be largely lives in the divide between those strengths.

Where You Want to Be isn’t the last great Taking Back Sunday album and it wasn’t the first. For a band with an expansive and still-growing impressive catalogue, it seems foolish to split hairs amongst some truly massive releases.

Is Where You Want to Be Taking Back Sunday’s best album? Maybe. More than anything, though, it represents a major step in the band’s career and an incredible follow up to a stellar debut amidst challenge, change and turmoil.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo by Brian Appio

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Comments

  1. Never really understood why people hate on this. I even got it on vinyl. One eighty by summer is probably my fav track on the album

  2. Good post! I write about music (pop punk etc) football and digital marketing; check it out  here 

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