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1. El Paso
Mike - This is a statement of purpose, the song that says “Guys, we’re back.” It’s the most bone-crushing Molotov cocktail of wailing guitar, sledgehammer drums, and lumbering bass that TBS has ever produced. Lazzara and Nolan’s howls twist around each other like barbed wire soaked in acid.
Matt - I will never forget where I was when I first heard “El Paso,” the first official single off the album. I immediately took to it and just sat there grinning because I was so happy. It is, by far, one of the strongest and heaviest songs in the band's discography and the perfect opener to let you know you are in for one hell of a ride on this disc.
2. Faith (When I Let You Down)
Mike - Louder Now hinted at the TBS’s stadium-sized aspirations, but this is the full realization of that. Crashing drums, organ swells, and flange soaked guitar leads accentuate Lazzara’s voice as it climbs skyward. This is an ANTHEM.
Matt - For some reason, when I first heard this song I was just kind of like “eh.” I have no idea what happened, but a few more plays and I became hooked. “Faith” is a simple and honest song that, if pushed right, has a sound capable of being a better radio single than “MakeDamnSure.”
3. Best Places to be a Mom
Mike - One of the big things TBS started to shy away from in the post-Nolan years was the dual-vocals they popularized on Tell All Your Friends. They’re front and center here, detailing romantic strife as the song shifts between stutter-stop crunch and open note swells. It’s so 2002.
Matt - The demo version of this song was the first to be leaked (by frontman Adam Lazzara himself) and I felt at the time it was the perfect blend of an old sound that is attempting to be progressive. The finished version has some nice touches and this song brings to mind the old saying of “having the band back together.”
4. Sad Savior
Mike - Eddie Reyes’ 50s-inspired pluck sets up sweetly against Lazzara’s naked voice before the group plunges into thick, chunky power-pop. Some arresting images and turns of phrase in this one, “Skin against skin, covering bone/On the body you're in, is aggressively slim/Yeah, you earned the clothes you put on it…”
Matt - I was put off at first by the country twang of the verses, but the choruses complement the song nicely. It's an example of great lyrics being the backbone of a decent song: “You don't have to pretend to be an orphan anymore. / You don't have to pretend to be important anymore.”
5. Who Are You Anyway
Mike - The most telling feature about Taking Back Sunday is how focused the group is in capturing a live energy. This track is easily the best example, complete with buzzsaw riffage and Mark O’Connell’s precision perfect drumming.
Matt - An example of something that happens a couple of times on this album: strong verses and mediocre choruses. TBS got knocked a lot in their early days of being repetitive in their lyrics and I think that notion fails them here in the chorus. But it's ok: the verses are bouncy and fun as hell.
6. Money (Let it Go)
Mike - This track seems to be the dividing line for old and new fans alike. Still, Shaun Cooper’s bass holds it together with dirty heft while the bridge features driving melodies and handclaps. TBS has always dabbled in hip-shaking grooves, but this is the closest they’ve ever come to funk.
Matt - Let me say this about “Money”: I like to turn it up and really feel it... but I could also do without it. I struggle to find meaning in the track but I guess every album needs that “distraction” where you just don't think much about it and go with it.
7. This is All Now
Mike - A distant cousin to “Ghost Man On Third,” this cut implements delicate open notes rounded out by warm bass work. Lazzara and Nolan’s sand paper vocals trade lines like, “This is, all I ever ask from you/The only thing you couldn't to do/Tell me the whole truth…” during a heaving chorus and perhaps the album’s heaviest emotional apex.
Matt - From start to finish, from lyrics to instrumentals, from verses to choruses (and bridges): this is the best track on the album. If this is the kind of music that is representative of TBS 2.0 (or is it like 4.5 at this point?) then I want front row tickets for this ride.
8. It Doesn't Feel a Thing Like Falling
Mike - Reyes and Nolan trade fuzzy, spidery riffs before the group slam down around them. There’s a relentlessly climbing atmosphere featured here, which is definitely destined to shine live. Imitators should take notes.
Matt - Remember that “repetitive chorus” thing I talked about in “Money”? Well it returns here but with a different result – it works. It's a perfect example of the vocals working with the instruments and one of the best examples of the dual vocals that were absent on New Again.
9. Since You're Gone
Mike - Of all the tracks on Taking Back Sunday, this is the throw away. It’s simply disjointed; the soft piano breaks seem out of place within an otherwise placid mid-tempo number. Elsewhere, Lazzara simply whines “I’M SORRY/COME BACK!” to the point where it’s obnoxious, not anguished.
Matt - I want to not like this track. Parts of it just seem so simple and thrown together, but dammit: I relate to it and because of that the song has me in its grasp. “There's no one to take for granted now you're gone” is an open statement that any fool that thought they were better off can relate to. Though, once again, it gets repetitive, I can feel the emotion in the chorus and that's what separates it from the other tracks.
10. You Got Me
Mike - If “Since You’re Gone” found Lazzara whining about his ex, “You Got Me” has him fixated on his current, “I was there when you were lonely/I was then when you were bored/I was there when you were feeling scared/And you were not sure what for…” The song blasts by quick with Nolan’s spiraling solo being a huge highlight.
Matt - While the song has some of the best instrumental work, it is probably one of the weakest songs lyrically. I actually didn't think that until I heard the demo for “Mourning Sickness” (a track I DESPARATELY wish was included) and saw that the chorus in that song is only the bridge
in here. While not bad, this one had a lot of potential.
11. Call Me in the Morning
Mike - Twinkling acoustics give way to sweet sentiments that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Straylight Run record. Lazzara and Nolan fixate on the afterglow of a one-night stand but there’s a tenderness here that the group rarely explores. Though the hook is fairly obvious, it’d be nice to see them push this type of ballad writing in the future.
Matt - I love this band to death, but I will be the first to admit that Lazzara's vocals sometimes walk a very thin line between being different and being annoying and this one is an example where he almost slips. I think near the end had one of the strongest examples of the dual vocals and a nice closer of an album that builds to give you an overall ending.
Mike - If there’s a criticism to throw at Taking Back Sunday it’s the fact that the group focused on creating an immediate record at the expense of sonic diversity. Though Nolan’s indie sensibilities crop up here and there, this self-titled record is aimed at big riffs and shout-along choruses. Those limitations aside, however, Lazzara (and the rest of TBS) seems revitalized working with Nolan and Cooper, and eager to explore where they’ve been during their creative separation. Additionally, the group has effectively shed their adolescent skin to explore weightier themes (Faith, Guilt, Self-Preservation) with an aggressive mix, courtesy of producer Eric Valentine. All in all, Taking Back Sunday is a record that exhibits growth amongst musicians that were born to play together, even if it’s within a tightly specific framework this time around. (****)
Key Cuts: El Paso, Best Places To Be A Mom, This Is All Now
Matt - While this is the same lineup as Tell All Your Friends, it is definitely not the same music. And that is a good thing. A lot can happen in nine years, especially when a teenager with plenty of angst turns into a twenty something adult who is starting to see the world for what it really is. I feel this release was a perfect example of the good kind of growth and it only makes me anticipate future releases from this revamped lineup to see where they can grow from here.
It's hard to look critically at a band you connect with on a “favorite” level. Admittedly I can find flaws in this release if I look for them and no, this album is not going to win any “Of The Year” categories. But at the end of the day, from track 1 to track 11 – I enjoy it. And at its simplest form, isn't that what the music is all about?