Review Summary: So what's it feel like to be a ghost?
You’d think that by LP5, lines like “For Christ sake, we’re just kids” couldn’t possibly still be escaping the guy who hollered the same base adolescent sentiment nine years ago, but, somewhat comfortingly, somewhat disappointingly, here are Taking Back Sunday, the same as Taking Back Sunday have ever been: perpetually terrified high school seniors, straining their vocal cords to read vague, faux-poetic livejournal posts about their ex-girlfriends over big, loud, half-time choruses. Which is fine, honestly; it’s only fitting that the self-titled, this-is-who-we-are
album from Taking Back Sunday should sound like every album Taking Back Sunday have ever made, because hey, that was one good album. But there’s something disheartening about the constant regurgitating of that dual-vocal, melodramatic pop song they sing, because every time they spew the same weepy bullshit
they lose more of the charm that made their weepy bullshit
so scream-your-guts-out appealing in the first place.
I’ll come right out and say it: right now, Taking Back Sunday are terrible. And not totally because they’re 30 year olds pretending the teenagers of 2005 never grew up; if anything on Taking Back Sunday
had the naïve charm, melodic irresistibility, or simple bite as “A Decade Under The Influence” did, I would scream it from my rooftop and declare the record a gem for the teenage idiot still very much alive in me. No, this incarnation of Taking Back Sunday are terrible because they’re playing dress up, imposing angst onto their music in an overwhelmingly vapid guesstimate of how Tell All Your Friends
was successful. As if aware that their current relevance is built almost entirely on the nostalgic worth of that album, they bank on nostalgia as a substitute for ingenuity, boiling down their sound to its essences, as if to beg us to remember their glory days with the same rose-tinted hindsight that they do. And so they scream about an ill-defined “you” and they scream about their failures and their songs do what Taking Back Sunday songs do. But these are parts to a whole that didn’t survive the move to adulthood intact, and the cracks- or, more accurately, the massive vacuum of original ideas- show, glaringly, through the good will they’re granted by doing the same song and dance with their original lineup.
Not that the mere presence of John Nolan, back from his career’s slow descent from unique to routine, earns the good will. For all the hullaballoo made about his return, his presence on this record is largely negligible. Rather than providing caustic counterpoint to Adam Lazzara’s tragic sincerity as he did on Tell All Your Friends
, he takes on the same unfortunate role of personality-free backup vocalist Matthew Fazzi took on the band’s self-proclaimed worst album, New Again
. The dynamic, double-sided narratives he and Fred Mascherino mastered are eschewed here, leaving Nolan the responsibility of shouting stupid banalities to support Lazzara’s skin-deep lyrics, as if he could somehow provide them with emotional heft by repeating them over and over in a desperate yelp. Lazzara has never been a particularly brilliant lyricist, but he’s lost the ability to create character. The objects of his constant torture, presumably some women he knows, are so poorly developed here that the predictable, lung-spilling choruses that scream “Care!” pass breezily by as one of the many undeservedly grandiose nothings that populate this record. With Nolan’s talents marginalized, Lazzara’s left to peruse his songbook for his favorite awful metaphors, pulling out lyrics ranging from the merely inoffensive to the gratingly bereft of wit.
“Skin against skin/ covering bone/ the body you’re in/ is aggressively slim,” is a choice lyric of the latter category, found on the aggressively bad “Sad Savior,” a song which, in addition to being a clumsy waltz, exemplifies the amusingly misguided Christian imagery Lazzara curiously culls throughout the album. There’s an inordinate amount of Jesus here, sometimes dropped subtly but more often dropped with the same sort of trivial understanding found in the unforgivable “Can you imagine Christ hitting a child?” line from “This is All Now.” I don't wish to accuse Lazzara of hopping on Christianity as a trendy thematic unifier, even though it really really really looks like he did just that, but he does
sound clumsy, as if he were trying to sprinkle maturity on his run-of-the-mill anxieties when his anxieties and, yeah, his band, sound the same as ever. And the sound is entirely irrelevant.
So heave a sigh; for all the promise their reunion had, they sound as if they’re remembering how to work together, painting their album by numbers rather than taking risks or adding artistic flourishes of their own. And you know what? The slow-burning bridge/epic finale thing they nailed on “One-Eighty by Summer” just doesn’t pack the same emotional punch the twelfth goddamn time. A chorus whose essence is basically “I’m sorry, come back” is a lot more effective than a chorus that actually is
“I’m sorry, come back.” But what’s worse than the ignorance of their past is their stubborn allegiance to it, their willful refusal to try something that doesn’t rely on fond memories of years gone by. They’ve become relics, men too old to be attending the local band’s shows, guys who still believe in the constant adolescence idealized on “Soco Amaretto Lime.” No one stays 18 forever. At what point do we implore them to please, stop trying?