Taking Back Sunday - Happiness Is (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Taking Back Sunday

Happiness Is (2014)


I'm going to let you in on a little secret- Somewhere around the time of 2009's New Again, after most of their original fanbase (and original members) had moved on to other things, Taking Back Sunday became a FANTASTIC pop-rock band. Even when the group's "classic" Tell All Your Friends lineup reunited for their 2011 self-titled album, the group stayed the chorus they had begun on their previous record and made a mature, challenging and tuneful rock album, containing some of their most aggressive material ever ("El Paso), as well as their most melodic ("Call Me in the Morning.") In contrast, Happiness Is, the group's second full-length release since their reformation can be seen as a bit of return to form, which will inevitably be great news for a large section of their fanbase, but will come as a disappointment for fans that appreciated the more adventurous two prior records.

Unlike their three prior full-lengths, which all commenced with uptempo rockers, Happiness Is begins with an short orchestral preface titled, appropriately enough, "Preface." It's a serviceable enough introduction for the album's first proper track "Flicker Fade", but it's not anything that warrants repeat listens. "Flicker Fade" itself however is one of the record's strongest tracks. A ballad in the tradition of "MakeDamnSure" and New Again's "Where My Mouth Is", it's a curious choice as an opener, but its anthemic singalong chorus will surely see it become a live favorite. "Stood a Chance" in comparison has a much more old-school TBS vibe. Here it becomes apparent that this record is a product of the Tell All Your Friends lineup. It's a catchy enough track, although it feels like a huge step backwards from what the group were pulling off on their last couple full-lengths.

The biggest issue with Happiness Is is what can be perceived as a lack of energy. While there are several moments that bring to mind what the group were doing on Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be stylistically, the record's momentum is slowed by a slew of midtempo ballad-like tracks through the middle. A return to form would have been welcome if the group had spent more time recreating "Timber Wolves at New Jersey" than "Ghost Man on Third." Even bouncier rock tracks like "We Were Younger Then" are marked with frustratingly mellow introductions before fully kicking into high gear. Towards the end of the record, "Like You Do" feels like a breath of fresh air just because the energy levels are increased a tad.

Happiness Is has some great tracks, but ultimately is probably the group's weakest showing overall. No matter which era of Taking Back Sunday you prefer, they've done most of the things here better previously. The group seem to be having some sort of directional identity crisis. Their are more traces of their early work here than we've heard in recent years, but without the energy that made us fall in love in the first place. Worth a listen for fans, but keep your expectations modest.