Taking Back Sunday - New Again (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Taking Back Sunday

New Again (2009)

Warner Bros.

Like so many peers and predecessors, Taking Back Sunday have long suffered as victims of the first album shadow, but one can chalk up some bona fide criticisms as to why they could never match the moments that made 2002's Tell All Your Friends a practical emo classic for the current decade. Losing guitarist/vocalist John Nolan and struggling to find a similarly successful dynamic in replacement Fred Mascherino? A compelling argument. Leaning too heavily on repetition and producing a treacherously top-heavy album in 2004's Where You Want to Be? Maybe. But 2006's major label debut, Louder Now was a step in the right direction. It was a versatile and momentarily aggressive release, retaining a certain sense of unique melody and seeming to better channel that special something than the band had done in four years. The problem now, is, they're falling upon its same tricks without trying to develop it further.

Let it be known: New Again's songs are decently well-written. They're slick, solid pop-rock slabs, for the most part. There's nothing overly extravagant about them, nor are they tainted by gimmickry; their quality rises just above pedestrian enough to be enjoyable. But one would think that a regiment change in production might overhaul the sound, but it only ends up finding David Kahne (who does 10 of the 11 tracks) coat New Again with a generally generic hard rock tone. One would also imagine that another major lineup overhaul would transform things. Facing New York, the band guitarist/vocalist Matt Fazzi derived from, put out some weirdly ambitious and style-hopping albums with him, but now it seems that maybe Fazzi was the one restraining that band from going completely off the edge. Because, frankly, New Again is nowhere near any sort of edge.

The opener and title track unfurls an overly simple and mildly fuzzy bassline as the album's first few seconds, and it's not the most promising start. But the chorus is solid and begs, in the least, an acknowledging singing-along of it. And that's largely the territory New Again stakes out: sterilized, somewhat mediocre songwriting saved by enough bubbles bearing engaging tidbits to keep it just worthwhile.

Portions of the pre-chorus in "Sink Into Me" are OK but sound a bit like a second-rate Taking Back Sunday cover band, while the first three songs on the album generally share the same sort of nervous, stuttering musicality. "Summer, Man" is essentially a less whiny redux of "Miami" (Louder Now's third-quarter flub) and buries a semi-interesting riff amid guitars that thump along entirely too much to give the song any greater of an impact. The percussive work in "Swing" is tight and intricate, but other than a second or so of 'umph' and another of restrained sneering in frontman Adam Lazzara's voice, everything else is kinda tossed off. "Where My Mouth Is" is fairly groan-worthy WB fare (thanks, Matt Squire), while "Cut Me Up Jenny"'s got a few slightly dynamic moments around the chorus that could've been fleshed out for better form. Besides that, the second half doesn't quite come alive until Lazzara's fairly vicious line in closer "Everything Must Go" with that sass and crack in his voice ("You quote the good book / when it's convenient!") -- reportedly about ex-girlfriend and Eisley guitarist Chauntelle DuPree.

Taking Back Sunday's fourth album has definite patches of memorability, but some pretty forgettable blotches, too. New Again? Hardly.

New Again
Sink Into Me
Where My Mouth Is
Everything Must Go