With 2002's infamous Tell All Your Friends, Taking Back Sunday set a pretty high bar for the post-hardcore pop-influenced genre that everyone decides to call emo. Their sound, somewhere between Thursday and Saves the Day, caused a figurative explosion within the scene. Cue a dramatic Livejournal-traumatizing split with guitarist and backing vocalist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper, the release of the incredibly underwhelming Where You Want to Be, and fast-forward to the "louder" Taking Back Sunday, debuting on Warner Bros. Records with Louder Now.
I will say that I still stand by my one-star review of WYWTB. When there was talk that the band was returning to their 'roots,' it seemed encouraging. The single, "MakeDamnSure," isn't what I'd call amazing, but certainly has learnings of a day when TBS could construct a wonderful pop-punk song, hopefully being a good introduction of things to come.
The good news is that with the re-recorded "Error Operator," the band has finally delivered a song that can match the bar set with their classics like "Cute Without the 'E'" and "Ghost Man on Third." The re-done bridge and the slight production really put this song into the "Would be fun as hell to see live" category. "Spin" also manages to bring back the energy that the band had with "Blue Channel." "I'll Let You Live" has potential, but is muddled down by never finding out what kind of song it wants to be.
The rest of the album faults the same way Where You Want to Be faulted. For the most part, the lyrics are, once again, incredibly repetitive. The obligatory acoustic song is painfully bad. "Miami" is terrible. To be honest, the first time I listened to this album in full I found myself bored with a majority of it. There aren't any sudden breakout parts like the end of "Timberwolves at New Jersey," and aside from the aforementioned songs, nothing of interest guitar, bass, or drum-wise. The songs, for the most part, involve a couple verses, a few choruses, and a breakdown featuring overproduced or near-whispered vocals for 'effect.' There are big distractions with the production; everything seems like it was played an octave too high, and the usually hard-hitting drums are muffled behind overdriven guitars and too much attention on the vocals.
Part of what made the production on Tell All Your Friends was the constant assault of two guitars, two vocalists, amazing drums and usually changing-up bass-lines. The magnification of the vocals only emphasizes the fact that this album can't hold the weight of its predecessors in the lyrical department. There is a disconnection between the vocals and the music that makes the album hard to listen to.
I'm not saying that Louder Now is always bad, but I am saying it's getting old and pretty boring. Taking their often-compared counterparts in Brand New under consideration, Taking Back Sunday simply hasn't grown. While the last album's lack of maturity could be blamed on the band being re-formed, they've been a single group now for long enough that there should be some sense of growth. Instead, what I'm hearing is the best impersonation of old Taking Back Sunday that the new Taking Back Sunday could put together.
Tell All Your Friends set in motion a plethora of Taking Back Sunday rip-offs whose albums were nothing but plagairized half-screams and lyrics that gave suburban kids a false sense of tragedy in order to justify their silver-spoon lives. While bands like Thursday and Brand New are growing up and out of the trends they were responsible for setting in motion, raising the bar on themselves and the bands around them, Taking Back Sunday seems content to rest in the laurels of their mediocrity, proving the band that was the most successful at ripping them off was themselves.