Review Summary: See I recall, quite perfectly, who I was both before and after the drugs; before and after the drugs.
At some point in the process of penning a new album, you have to think of a name for it. Whether that title means anything or not is really entirely up to you. Look to Jimmy eat World's most recent offering - Chase This Light - those words being relevant simply for their inclusion as a lyrics in the title-track, and beyond that, unimportant. Of course, sometimes the title is pivotal - a key part of the creative process - and you only have to think back as far as Kid A and OK Computer to find astounding albums whose titles reflect their concepts. But every once in a while, if a band allows it, the title of an album becomes a statement. Maybe it's a statement of intent, of creative freedom, of not giving a fuck, but it's still a statement. And whatever way you squint when you look at it, it's impossible to read the words New Again
and ignore their apparent importance.
Let's be sensible, though: Taking Back Sunday were hardly going to turn around and go all crunkcore on our asses. The word 'new' here is far more of a development than a re-invention, but the changes are subtle and well-executed enough to feel like an entirely new band is behind the music. Which it kind of is, given the much-debated departure of Fred Mascherino and the fact that only half of their debut album line-up still remains. But, adopting more of an alt-rock sound, and fusing it with their own brand of furious, catchy pop-punk, the New York rockers craft something far more mature and whole than most people would ever have given them credit for. Tell All Your Friends was a fantastically frantic offering, swinging between rage and self-pity with alarming pace, but it was an exhausting listen. New Again lacks that sharp edge, but at times is actually a far more satisfying listen than any of the band's previous releases.
Maybe what's so pleasing about it is that they don't sound like they're trying as hard as they did on Louder Now. 'Spin', although one of the best tracks they've ever written, still sounded like its volume and energy were deliberated over. Here, it's like a jigsaw - the track listing and diversity form an infinitely listenable record with its highs and lows in tact. There are plenty of darker moments here - the whole album, in fact, maintains a fairly sincere cutting edge - but these aesthetic shifts and threads seem cohesive and more of an inherent quality than a prosthetic limb. Swing
, with its power-chords and a chorus which rides on its subtly infectious vocal melody, should by all rights be a bouncy effort and nothing more, but it's given an added degree of force and momentum by the potent guitar line that lies beneath the refrain. And Taking Back Sunday's best-written ballad, Where My Mouth Is
, manages to remain both poignant and uplifting throughout by the way in which it breaks down and restarts seamlessly.
Though Louder Now was hardly inaccessible, the other reason New Again is such an accomplishment is because its pop sensibilities are far more obvious; the choruses here are bigger and more confident, the beats and flow of the record are far more consistent and although the band prove they still aren't afraid to inject a little melodrama it feels considerably less erratic than TAYF and markedly less forced than LN. The only track which completely loses itself in its own anger or emotion is closer Everything Must Go
, which comes so out of left field that it knocks everything else to pieces. But that's not to say that there's a lack of anthemic quality to the songs here: Capital M-E
has an incredibly poppy refrain which, coupled with the ever-quotable lyricism, make the song a dead cert for gigs and festivals; Summer, Man
on the other hand rides on its nostalgic opening riff and rueful tone, and employs a massively dance-worthy chorus. There's plenty to sing along to here.
works best when it's played loudly, which is perhaps ironic given its predecessor's title. Really, this is hardly a departure from their signature sound for a band which has amassed a loyal following. Some of that following will probably take issue with the album's largely upbeat, almost summery aura, and proclaim it not worthy of the faux-emo pop-punk Taking Back Sunday of old, but behind the eyeliner they'll be desperate to break out in hand-claps on Sink Into Me
. So there's no re-birth or leap of faith through these 38 minutes of music, but the absence of dual vocals, the marginally cleaner instrumentation and the hook-filled songwriting hint at a subtle shift in the direction of a genre better described as alt-rock than pop-punk. And they're damn good at it.