Reflecting On: Taking Back Sunday – Louder Now

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To survey the post-punk landscape in 2006 was to witness rippling waves of Taking Back Sunday’s influence. The band inadvertently launched a full-scale outbreak with their landmark debut, Tell All Your Friends, pouring gasoline on a spark set by acts like Thursday and At the Drive-In. Seemingly within a matter of weeks, the underground scene had ballooned with bands anxious to capture that same fire and fans eager for another dose.

By the time Taking Back Sunday released their third full length album, that same scene had reached a fever pitch – Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard were staples on pop radio, Underoath and Saosin were igniting a new brand of post-hardcore, and My Chemical Romance was about to become one of the largest rock bands in the universe. In this new world of scene stardom, was there still room for the band that set it all in motion a half-decade prior?

Yes. Yes, there was.

Never a band to follow suit or settle for ordinary, Taking Back Sunday leapt from their home at Victory Records to the big leagues at Warner Bros. to release Louder Now, the band’s most commercially successful record to date. In true Taking Back Sunday fashion, the album is full of surprises and incredibly divisive.

For contentious fans looking for reasons to be bothered yet again in the wake of Where You Want to Be, reasons abounded. Louder Now is decidedly more polished and well rounded than the band’s previous two releases. It’s an alt-rock record built for radio that dabbles in emo and punk elements without showing its hand. If you demand on pointing to a moment when Taking Back Sunday “jumped the shark,” Louder Now is Exhibit A.

On the other, more level-headed hand, Louder Now is an expertly crafted rock record. Although the band’s tumultuous divorce from guitarist Fred Mascherino lay just around the corner, it’s difficult to deny the cohesive nature of this album. In place of chaos lay deep melodies and tight songwriting. Louder Now was the next logical step for a band seeking to mature beyond its roots and become a bonafied rock band on a grander stage.

Louder Now toned down much of the emotive commotion that put the band on the map without losing any necessary energy. True to its name, the album is loud and brash at the right moments, but also showcases a band that had outgrown its own skin. Opener “What it Feel Like to Be a Ghost” is a shining example of the Taking Back Sunday we never knew – Mascherino and Eddie Reyes’ guitars are tight and crisp, while Mark O’Connell’s finely tuned drums splinter through the mix. It’s a full sound that gave room for Adam Lazzara to stretch his melodies in new and exciting ways.

For all of the sonic changes on Louder Now, the band still made room for some of their best throwback moments. The call and response vocals between Mascherino and Lazzara on “Liar (It Takes One to Know One)” and “MakeDamnSure” harken back to the early days of TBS, with Lazzara still finding room for some of his signature silver-tongued one-liners. His biting delivery of, “My inarticulate store-bought hangover hobby kit it talks / And says, ‘You, oh, you are so cool’” on “MakeDamnSure” still remains one of the most delightfully tongue-twisting moments on tape. When Lazzara hisses, “The abortion that you had left you clinically dead / And made it all that much easier to lie” on “Spin”, it’s clear that ghosts of the old Taking Back Sunday remain.

Nestled in between the more raucous moments rested some of the band’s best songwriting to date and the building blocks for what was to come on later releases. “Miami” remains one of the most criminally underrated tracks in recent rock memory, with its smooth intro leading to a pulse-pounding bridge, highlighted by a sizzling guitar solo and Lazzara’s escalating lines of, “The terror held in wedding bells / The comfort in there’s no one else”.

Likewise, tracks like “Up Against (Blackout)” and “Twenty-Twenty Surgery” provide surprising changes of pace throughout, while showcasing the band’s expanding repertoire and knack for melody. From front to back, Louder Now is a contained fire – one that burns brightly without whipping out of control or descending into unnecessary or forced disorder. It was a necessary evolution that propelled the band into the second stage of their career.

At the time, the resounding triumph of a platinum album that found the band as festival and arena headliners appeared vindication for the painful falling out with John Nolan and Shaun Cooper just a few years prior. Nevertheless, it would be only a year before another painful falling out would lead to another rebirth (New Again), followed by another falling out and a full-circle reunion of the original cast (Taking Back Sunday). Through the tumultuous years that followed, the success of Louder Now sustained the band, leading to 2014’s Happiness Is, a new classic worthy of placement alongside the band’s best work.

Now in their 17th year of existence, internal conflict and constant change has done little to limit the band’s growth. Taking Back Sunday still rests firmly perched atop the scene they helped build all those years ago. Ten years later, Louder Now still reverberates as a classic record – an album that showed up-and-coming bands how to evolve and how to navigate the mainstream. It also made damn sure we all knew one thing: Taking Back Sunday was going to be sticking around for a while. We’re so glad they have.

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.

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