Review Summary: Pop-punk minus the punk
When John Nolan and Shaun Cooper rejoined Taking Back Sunday in 2010 after spending several years together in Straylight Run, most of us thought this would be a return to the rough around the edges vocal yowling and hook heavy turn of the century emo-pop of 2001's Tell All Your Friends
. Well, we were wrong. Instead, the duo brought Straylight Run's softer brand of melodic pop into Taking Back Sunday's continued evolution towards more mainstream alternative rock. The transition wasn't seamless, Taking Back Sunday's self titled can attest to that, but now two records into this reunion, it's obvious that Nolan and Cooper's influence on their songwriting is now at the core of Taking Back Sunday's identity.
The result is that Happiness Is
essentially sounds like a Straylight Run record being fronted by Adam Lazzara. The album's first two singles, “Flicker, Fade” and “Stood A Chance” are relatively tame offerings when compared to what made Taking Back Sunday famous, but the songwriting is still wondrously catchy. The subdued verses burst into the same kind of choruses that Lazzara has always seemed to make bigger than they actually are; each one turning into fun, skin deep summer anthems. Lyrically, the team of Nolan and Lazzara still playfully wind sarcasm and wit with a love lorn nostalgia like when they were teens, but this time around it doesn't stick like it used to. It's not that they have lost their knack for honesty, but there is a slight gap in it when you get men in their thirties writing pop songs for teenagers. You can compare it to Weezer and Rivers Cuomo's tale of young love on “Pork and Beans”. That being said, the pot shot at The Kings of Leon in “Flicker, Fade” almost completely absolves Lazzara from this slight awkwardness. Elsewhere on Happiness Is
, Taking Back Sunday show their age in more fitting ways -- like on the penultimate “We Were Younger Then”. It blends the Warped Tour rock of their past with the big stadium dad rock of U2's How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb
. It continues into the closing ballad Nothing At All
and for the first time in a long time, Taking Back Sunday feel as though they are comfortable with themselves.
All in all, Happiness Is
sounds like as much of a career turning point into mellow pop rock territories as Louder Now
was a shift into alternative guitar rock for Taking Back Sunday some eight years prior. While obviously those looking for a passive glance of teenage nostalgia a la Tell All Your Friends
or Where You Want to Be
might be disappointed in what Taking Back Sunday have offered up here, it is by no means a sub-par record. Happiness Is
is warming shot of feel good guitar pop and bright choruses that is easily on par with the best of the latter half of Taking Back Sunday's career. The only question is will fans be open to the sound of pop-punk minus the punk?