Review Summary: If it ain't broke, improve on it
Taking Back Sunday used to always have a subplot to their albums. Tell All Your Friends was marked by the feud they had with former bassist Jesse Lacey and his band, Brand New while Where You Want to Be’s release begged the question of whether TBS would be able to recover from the loss of John Nolan and Shaun Cooper. With Louder Now, however, Taking Back Sunday’s lineup remained consistent between albums and there was very little drama surrounding the album. The result is a more developed, consistent effort from the band and quite possibly their best overall. Some may say that it lacks ambition but what it lacks is more than made up for in what it has.
Adam Lazzara’s vocals have long been Taking Back Sunday’s main calling card. His trademark wail has characterized their singles and buoyed their ballads throughout the band’s successful periods. Louder Now is really the first time that he sounds confident on every song though. In the past, he occasionally sounded nervous, especially on songs like ‘New American Classic.’ His voice would begin to waver and the music would suffer as a result. On Louder Now, his voice is consistently powerful and supported wonderfully by Eddie Reyes’ guitar. The blistering aural assault of power chords and soaring vocals have been refined to the point that you forget that all of the songs follow the same formula, with the exception of My Blue Heaven.
My Blue Heaven is the only time that the group takes a risk on Louder Now and it pays off. The placement of the song is such that it breaks up the monotony of the pop-punk and interesting enough that it keeps you engaged throughout. This song is perhaps the best showcase of Lazzara as well. The higher pitch of the guitar fits his range better than the ‘A’- chords favored by Reyes and rhythm guitarist Fred Mascherino. The buildup is slow and complete with a catchy chorus (this is pop-punk after all) but the highlight is when the climax hits. The music builds even slower with Lazzara calling “You’re safe child you are…” before heading into the final chorus. This song is quintessential Taking Back Sunday: loud guitars, creative drumming and plenty of switching vocals between Lazzara and Mascherino. My Blue Heaven makes you wish that there was more risk taking on the album, but the quality of the finished product is enough to make you forgive them for sticking with what works.
Fred Mascherino was something like Dr. Jekyll on Where You Want to Be, his first Taking Back Sunday album. Sometimes, it seemed like he could go round-for-round with Lazzara vocally. Other times, he sounded like an angry rapist, grunting at full volume with no real direction. His improvement has been as drastic as Lazzara’s has, and perhaps even more so. He supports the higher vocals with a deeper tone and, on ‘Spin,’ dabbles in harsh vocals. His voice has become more elastic and always plays a supporting role- he wisely never tries to steal the spotlight. That said, he never really tries to make a difference. There’s no ambition to his singing, he’s merely there to play second banana to Lazzara. Granted, he plays the role very well, but I would’ve liked to hear a little bit more from him. When he does sing, he makes the song better. ‘Liar’ and ‘Error: Operator’ would be nowhere near as powerful as they are without him trading vocal barbs with Lazzara. It’s safe to say that he’s the unsung hero of Louder Now: piping in when he should, staying quiet when he probably should, and playing rhythm guitar as inconspicuously as possible.
As far as growth goes, there isn’t much to be found outside of the vocalists. The musicianship has become tighter and Matt Rubano’s bass is surprisingly audible but it’s hard to grow if you don’t try anything new. This is obviously the case with Louder Now. Where You Want to Be was a highly experimental record (by TBS standards) and they choose not to build on the relative experimentation. Divine Intervention harkens back to WYWTB’s slower songs but, along with My Blue Heaven, is the only song that isn’t a straightforward pop-punk song. There’s no sign of increased maturity, merely of increased familiarity. This is perhaps the only critique one can make about the album. The rest of it is exactly you would expect from Taking Back Sunday, but isn’t that what you’re looking for when you get an album?
So, although the group seems to lack ambition as musicians they still produced a really good album. No member stands out as a weak link and they all do their best to produce The Adam Lazzara Show, which works to great effect. Despite taking just small steps out of their comfort zone, Taking Back Sunday still prove that their zone is a pretty comfy one. Overall, Louder Now is short, sweet, straightforward, and almost perfect, which is exactly what you would expect.