Review Summary: Taking Back Sunday finally feel like accomplished, skillful songwriters instead of a band driven by a few clever lyrics and a sarcastic deliver
There are going to be a lot of jokes about how this album is called New Again and how Taking Back Sunday still sound basically the same as they always have, which is unfortunate because it isn't really clever at all. The album name rather obviously refers to the fact that Taking Back Sunday have suffered yet another guitarist/backup vocalist change, their third in four albums. On Tell All Your Friends, there was John Nolan, who left shortly thereafter to form the one-hit wonder band Straylight Run. Then there was Fred Mascherino, who was a member of the band for Where You Want To Be and Louder Now. On New Again, there is Matthew Fazzi. You've got to feel sort of sorry for the guy; although Mascherino has come under fire from a lot of TBS fans (and TBS themselves) because of his departure to form the awful The Color Fred, he was still well-liked, and he performed excellently during his time in the band. But there are those who still haven't gotten over the fact that John Nolan just ain't coming back, and so they scrutinize each new backup vocalist with a magnifying glass and ultimately disapprove of them.
Still, Fazzi fits in nicely on New Again, sounding much like Mascherino did, except he opts for more of a background role, whereas Mascherino sometimes felt like more than a backup vocalist. In that regard, New Again is business as usual; Adam Lazzara still owns the microphone, the lyrics are still sarcastic and clever and biting, and the instruments are still played simply yet competently. In terms of how New Again fits into their discography, it's not as good as their first two albums, but it is more consistent than Louder Now. However, Louder Now's best songs seem stronger than anything on New Again, or they were at least more immediately gripping. New Again places less emphasis on catchy parts and more focused on entire songs. With some songs on Louder Now, like "Miami," the verses seemed haphazardly thrown together as simple segues into a catchy chorus, and while it was still a great album, it did feel like Taking Back Sunday were settling into a rut and riding on their past success. New Again feels focused and sure; the band sounds confident despite yet another lineup change.
The title track fittingly kicks things off, and Taking Back Sunday sound more sincere than ever. While Mascherino's departure was obviously a point of contention, the band sounds content with where they are right now musically. "Sink Into Me" starts off shakily with staccato "Hey! Hey!"s, but quickly picks up with the album's catchiest chorus (with handclaps!). If Louder Now's "Spin" redefined "driving" as an adjective, then "Sink Into Me" gives it a new new
definition. "Lonely, Lonely" continues the string of strong songs, and it sees New Again falling into one of Louder Now's pitfalls - top-heaviness. However, New Again redeems itself better than Louder Now did; its weakest songs are much stronger than Louder Now's. "Cut Me Up, Jenny" plods without much to keep it interesting, but it isn't anywhere close to being skip-worthy, and "Catholic Knees" brings nothing new to the table, but it's short enough to avoid wearing out its welcome. Other than those two songs, everything else is strong. "Capital M-E" is a scathing commentary on Mascherino's departure, and interestingly enough, it contains the most interesting and catchy guitar playing on the album. Lazzara lets the lyrics do the talking as opposed to putting any sort of aggression in his voice and the song is better for it. Instead of being a whiny confrontational song, "Capital M-E" instead sounds wistful and the mood is sad because of it. "Everything Must Go" is one of the best Taking Back Sunday songs ever, with a similar role to "I'll Let You Live" as the album's "epic" closer in terms of length and a slow start leading to a climax. Lazzara's vocal performance is his best since Tell All Your Friends, and the pacing of the song is utterly fantastic. Taking Back Sunday finally feel like accomplished, skillful songwriters instead of a band driven by a few clever lyrics and a sarcastic delivery.
Taking Back Sunday have always felt like a "summer" band, making music to be blared from car speakers while speeding down a highway, but they've never felt like more of a summer band than they do on New Again. Don't get me wrong - their music is honestly timeless - but Lazzara's insistence that he's "ready to feel new again" on the title track gains more meaning in the summer, where life is made up of fleeting fancies and opportunities, where we move from one day to the next, always searching for something different than the day before but only finding that everything is the same...and that's just fine. So that's New Again, and it's perfect.