Connor Watson, Contributing Writer
On Jan. 11, the band “Taking Back Sunday” released a compilation album titled “Twenty,” signifying the group’s two decades of writing music. The album offers a look back at what made “Taking Back Sunday” one of the most well-known emo acts of the mid-2000s and shows 20 years later that they still are a force to be reckoned with.
“Taking Back Sunday” got their start in Long Island in 1999, as part of a new wave of emo music emerging from New York and New Jersey, coming up with bands such as, “My Chemical Romance” and “Senses Fail.” After a spur of line-up changes, finally settling with the current line-up of Adam Lazzara – vocals, John Nolan – lead guitar, Eddie Reyes – rhythm guitar, Shaun Cooper – bass and Mark O’Connell – drums, they released their first full-length album, “Tell All Your Friends” in 2002. The album faired moderately in part from the singles “Great Romances of the 21st Century,” “You’re So Last Summer” and “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team).” The last song, “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team),” becoming one of the most recognizable “Taking Back Sunday” songs, and the album becoming one of the most influential emo albums of the 21st century.
The uniqueness that made the album so popular, apart from the depth of the lyrics and the musical arrangement, was the vocal style between lead singer Adam Lazzara and co-lead singer John Nolan. They were able to blend their lines seamlessly together, usually in a call-and-response approach; trading lines one right after the other or over each other. The blend between them created a range of feelings; Lazzara with a smooth vocal approach matched with a high intensity, and Nolan with a more abrasive style.
The band released their second album, “Where You Want to Be,” in 2004. The vacancies occurring from the departure of Nolan and Cooper were filled in by guitarist Fred Mascherino and bassist Matthew Rubano. The pair brought a different dynamic to the band, offering better musicianship and as Lazzara once stated they “cleaned up and tightened our sound.” Which proved beneficial to the success of the album, the single, “This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know)” being featured on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack.
Though the musical composition changed little from the previous album, the overall production improved, resulting in more marketable material. Some changes that are heard in the album include Mascherino’s different vocal and guitar style, and Rubano’s superior musicianship, offering backing vocals as well. “Where You Want to Be” was important to the emo scene in the early 2000s, although the album could be described as post-hardcore, or even pop punk in some respects, leading the band to sign with Warner Bros.
Their next album, “Louder Now,” would prove to be the album that launched the band into the mainstream. “Makedamnsure” would prove to be the most well-received song off the album. The instrumentation shed most of its emo connotation and led to an emergence of an alternative rock sound mixed with pop punk. Mascherino adds more life to the lead guitar with intensity-driven solos, and Rubano’s bass lines underscore the band’s already strong foundation. This is in part from Rubano writing bass lines that coincide with the drums—we hear a cohesion in the music that makes it sound fuller. With powerful vocals and a depth of lyrics not felt since “Tell All Your Friends,” “Louder Now” blasted “Taking Back Sunday” into the mainstream.
The band released their next album, “New Again,” in 2009. With the departure of Fred Mascherino, the band added lead guitarist and backup vocalist Matthew Fazzi. The album featured more bass-driven songs than previous albums and the lyrics fell flat. Lazzara stated that it “was a complete step backward.” The genre could be described as pop rock, seeing an almost complete abandon from their emo roots. The unique change is in Lazzara’s vocals, not reaching those high notes which were a staple of his career. The most disappointing part of the album were the lack of Fazzi’s vocals. He was hands down the best singer “Taking Back Sunday” ever had.
With “New Again” doing so poorly, high tensions led to the departure of Fazzi and Rubano. Nolan and Cooper would eventually come back, bringing a return to the original line-up. This current line-up would go on to release three albums together. The albums featured a mature composition with lyrics relating to the band’s experiences in fatherhood and marital problems. The instrumentation featured more reverb and a simpler construction, relying more on layering instruments during the recording process.
To hardcore fans of “Taking Back Sunday,” the albums were regarded as good and showed a clear maturity that comes with growing up. To some, the complete disbandment of emo or hardcore influences seemed disheartening. Their recent release “Tidal Wave” in 2016 could be viewed as heartland rock, abandoning emotionally-charged lyrics and downgrading them to simple clichés about their views on life.
“Taking Back Sunday” have gone through a tumultuous 20 years, seeing three line-up changes and albums more different from the last. Their work in the emo scene helped pave the way for younger bands, and their work now speaks volumes to fans at similar stages in their lives. The problems may change, but the emotions remain the same. That’s what makes “Taking Back Sundays”’ evolution so profound.