If there’s one thing the internet loves, it’s animated GIFs of cats. If there’s a second thing the internet loves, it’s arguing about everything, all the time, forever and ever. Thus, our new debate column is born! First up: Taking Back Sunday. What do you think their best album is? Here’s what some of our editorial staff had to say.
TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS
By Philip Obenschain
While there are often a million reasons that a band’s debut work is not their best—despite what your distorted sense of first-listen-nostalgia or self-gratifying “I liked them before they were famous” tendencies might tell you—in the case of Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, we have an album that defies the rule. Though it may not be their best sounding, most mature or highest in ambition (in fact, it might be last on all counts), it’s Tell All Your Friends’ intangible and emotionally charged energy, the uncertainty, the earnestness and the rough edges that make it so special.
When I spoke to the group last summer for our BackTracking feature on “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)," I asked Adam Lazzara how he felt when he listened back to TAYF now. He told me he can’t, because he doesn’t like the sound of his voice at 19. It’s the inexperience and rawness that Lazzara, older now and much more seasoned, is turned off by, but I think that gives the record its unique and special qualities. Tell All Your Friends captures a moment in time when a band with nothing else to lose, channeling angst and heartbreak and frustration, were able to soak up so much of what was happening around them and package it in a way that felt approachable and endlessly relatable. With 10 lean tracks, there’s not a bad song in the bunch, and while songs with bigger hooks and glossier production would follow, the charm, the hunger and the fire that fueled TAYF has not been replicated in the same way since. Combined with the fact that two of the group’s core members would depart soon after (only to rejoin seven years later, but with a different set of musical sensibilities), TAYF is an incredibly unique and largely accidental example of a debut with more heart, charm and passion than most bands could ever hope to achieve, and one uninhibited by the pressure to recreate success.
WHERE YOU WANT TO BE
By Brian Kraus
Every TBS album grasps at greatness, so let's not start an emo civil war here. However, Where You Want To Be is the closest they've come to the elusive "perfect album." It's plenty catchy, like Tell All Your Friends, but WYWTB escaped the high-pitch frequency noise plaguing TAYF's vocals (once you hear it, you can't unhear it), matured the words past freshman year and flexed the rhythm guitar to a new level. A new band, really, with two members making their debut on it. What about those other contenders? Louder Now relies on its singles; New Again's an acquired taste; Taking Back Sunday was a band struggling to start over and Happiness Is is an improvement on coming full circle. WYWTB is none of these things.
Who can forget the blissful signal blasts of “Set Phasers To Stun” or the stuttering delicacy of "A Decade Under The Influence" and its unfiltered finale? Hands down, incoming guitarist/vocalist Fred Mascherino was the MVP of TBS history. Of all Adam's sidekicks, Fred easily had the best chemistry and standalone parts. After an acoustic break in the middle (“New American Classic”), "I Am Fred Astaire" through "...Slowdance On The Inside" prove just as essential as the first half. The hits are back to back, like "One-Eighty By Summer," an EpiPen stab in the thigh of adrenaline and "Number Five With A Bullet," a convincing sing-along that goes "We're gonna die like this/You know/Miserable and old." Fans were devastated when the guy who looked like their cool uncle left the band, and they had a point.
By TJ Horansky
Tell All Your Friends is a scene classic, and Where You Want To Be elevated the band’s sound, but Louder Now is where Taking Back Sunday started firing on all cylinders. Despite the inner-band tension that existed, Fred Mascherino is the best guitarist/vocalist the band have had, original-lineup lovers be damned. Mascherino’s unique fluid and gruff vocals perfectly complements Adam Lazzara’s maniacal and effusive delivery, most notably on tracks such as “Liar (It Takes One To Know One)” and “My Blue Heaven.” This combo first appeared on WYWTB, but the vocal interplay on Louder Now feels much more natural. Mascherino also brought a distinct musical understanding that amplified the overall musicianship on Louder Now. The bridges in both “Miami” and “Error: Operator” are some of the best riffs the band have ever written. Former bassist Matt Rubano’s lighting-quick fingerpick technique gives the album an underlying drive, while still holding back enough to allow it to breath. “Spin” and “Error: Operator” are the most intense songs in the band’s catalog, while “Divine Intervention” is one of the most delicate and introspective tracks in their arsenal. The band perfected both of these styles on Louder Now and haven’t been able to replicate it since.
Last but not least, the production on Louder Now is nearly flawless. Credit producer Eric Valentine for capturing the best possible sound from each member and melding them into a cohesive final product. The drums are massive, the guitar tones are ferocious and the vocals sit perfectly on top of the mix. There are enough bells and whistles to make it sound polished but not over-polished. (The white noise and eerie xylophone on “Divine Intervention” were awesome touches, too.) Fans and critics are quick to point to TAYF as the best TBS album because of what it meant to the scene, but nostalgia biases aside, Louder Now is a superior album. And for what it’s worth, “MakeDamnSure” does have the most plays of any TBS song on Spotify…
By Scott Heisel
For whatever reason, New Again has developed this bad reputation among the scene, our constant adoration of the record notwithstanding. (We even voted it our No. 1 album of 2009!) I honestly don’t understand why so many Taking Back Sunday fans vehemently rejected it. Maybe fans had enough of the revolving door of guitarist/vocalists; maybe the darker, more aggressive musical bent turned off those still hoping for a Tell All Your Friends sequel; maybe the adult situations described in detail in Adam Lazzara’s lyrics became unrelatable to their younger audience. All I can tell those people is man, you are missing the fuck out by sleeping on this record.
First off: Yes, the band brought in yet another guitarist/vocalist, this time former Facing New York member Matt Fazzi, to replace departed member Fred Mascherino, whose departure was less than amicable. However, Fazzi added a new element to the band, with jazzy, off-kilter riffs (“Cut Me Up Jenny,” “Sink Into Me”) and lush textures (“Where My Mouth Is”) that weren’t there before. The rest of the band contributed TBS’s most aggressive songs to date in “Lonely, Lonely” and “Swing,” as well as a fresh bit of funk in “Carpathia” and a bona fide rock jam in “Summer, Man,” legitimately the best song TBS have ever written. Let’s not forget the absolutely epic closer, “Everything Must Go,” with its brutally honest depiction of Lazzara’s relationship with Eisley guitarist Chauntelle DuPree failing miserably. Lazzara’s lyrics also tackle addiction, betrayal and, oddly, firearms. (Ironic, given that the classic lineup of TBS re-connected at a shooting range outside Juarez, Mexico, less than a year after New Again’s release.)
The worst thing about fans rejecting this record is they convinced the band members it’s no good; both Lazzara and guitarist Eddie Reyes have made disparaging remarks about it, virtually none of New Again has been played live since 2010, minus a rare appearance of “Everything Must Go” here and there. It’s truly tragic these songs don’t get aired out due to some weird sense of shame about the circumstances surrounding the album’s creation. Shit, if Taking Back Sunday announced a show in Antarctica where they would play New Again start to finish, I would empty my bank account to get there. (I’m only halfway kidding, guys.)