By Cherie (contributing writer & editor) and Vas (contributing writer)
It’s been eleven years since Taking Back Sunday released their hit album Tell All Your Friends. Eleven years. The band has had its ups and downs in that time, but it seems like lately the band has been stuck in a downward spiral. Their last studio album, Taking Back Sunday, was probably their weakest album yet, failing to gain the popular support that past albums had. Maybe the lineup changes have had more of an impact on the band then they are letting on; having a rotating lineup that changes from album to album certainly can’t be good for maintaining a consistently positive atmosphere. Whatever the case its clear that the bands first three albums, Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want to Be, and Louder Now, are strong albums and have gained much support from fans but their latest few, New Again, and Taking Back Sunday have fallen short in that regard.
What’s a band to do when they start losing the support of their fan base? In an attempt to recapture some of their former glory, the band immediately jumped on the ten year anniversary of Tell All Your Friends and launched a tour in support of it. It was a good move for the band at the time. TAYF is commonly regarded as the band’s best album so playing that album live in its entirety was a good way to win older fans back. With the end of the tour rumors that the band was working on a new album surfaced, and that seemed to be the end of it. Until this past month.
This year, a year after the ten year anniversary, the band announced a live acoustic album of TAYF. Although I’m a huge TAYF fan, I have some major problems with the album. First of all, its a live album. The audio is shoddy at times, especially when it comes to Adam’s vocals. In an effort to include the crowd vocals, which are loud on most songs, the audio engineers end up with a lot of excess background noise which further decreases the quality of the audio. Adam’s vocals on the album also leave a lot to be desired. Half the time it sounds like he’s leaning away from the microphone, but even when he’s singing into it his vocals are sub-par. It’s a trend I’ve noticed over time that his vocals have been weak, and it almost makes me wonder if he strained them at some point and they never really recovered. Crowd participation is the one redeeming factor of the album, along with the appearance of Michelle Nolan doing the original background vocals on several tracks. I certainly plan on listening to TAYF this summer, but not this new live version. I’ll stick to the original recording. Overall it’s a disappointing album that screams of desperation for a return to past success.
I guess since you’re going to take bad cop on the album, I’ll be the good cop and point out some of the things I liked, although your points on the band’s steady decline are well taken. I would even go a step further and say the group pandering to its past began when they invited Shaun Cooper and John Nolan back into the band before recording their Self-Titled album, which I also was not too fond of save for a few songs. After New Again flopped, the group seemed really desperate to win fans back by appealing to those who loved Tell All Your Friends so they reconciled with Nolan and Cooper while kicking out Matt Rubano and Matt Fazzi, two very talented musicians who lent their skills to Taking Back Sunday and were caught in the unfortunate cross hairs of his desperation. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nolan and Cooper as much as the next TBS fan, but musically speaking it paid little dividends and Nolan’s famous backing vocals, which helped TAYF so much, hardly played a role on their new album. But I digress…
I too was a little disappointed to find out this album was recorded live. While Taking Back Sunday put on one of the most energetic live shows you’ll ever watch, I can’t say it’s the cleanest performance. It’s fun to be in the crowd but not the best to listen to or observe at home, and honestly for a band that has so many problems live, especially with Adam Lazzara’s voice it’s amazing that this is their third studio recording (along with a live Bamboozle album and their past acoustic album Live From Orensanz CD/DVD). A lot of bands are recording acoustic versions of albums (Saves the Day with Daybreak, Yellowcard with Ocean Avenue and When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, Dashboard Confessional with Alter The Ending) and it’s always fun to see a band put a different spin on a song acoustically in a studio setting with more at their disposal and more time to create it the way they want to.
Negatives (which you laid out) aside, Taking Back Sunday sets are all about the raw, captivating nature of the band and front man Adam Lazzara, which includes the sloppy instrumentation and gruff, distant vocals. I think this album captures that feeling very well, and you hear it the second the group breaks into “You Know How I Do”. The crowd participation is excellent on this album, which is to be expected coming from a band whose lyrics are meant to be shouted at the top of one’s lungs. As someone who has physically lost their voice at a Taking Back Sunday show, I can attest to this personally. This album features some of the most relatable lyrics, a wonderful, bitter, scathing attack that is so cathartic that it’s hard not to enjoy. As you would expect, “Cute Without the ‘E’” is the album’s highlight, as it all reaches a fever point that explodes in the bridge when Nolan and Lazzara exchange lyrics before the crowd erupts in “why can’t I feel anything for anyone but you!” The crowd participation even help mask Adam Lazzara’s weak vocals.
The piano and violins scattered throughout each track does add a nice dimension to the songs that the original versions don’t have. I’ll give the group credit for also experimenting with the tempo and pacing of “The Blue Channel”, which they slowed down considerably and doesn’t sound like the original with acoustic instruments. Also, it’s great seeing “Your Own Disaster”, a b-side from the original album, make its way onto the acoustic version. Sloppiness aside, I do enjoy the album though I will be more likely to go back to the original recordings, especially with songs like “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” and “You’re So Last Summer”, which don’t translate well acoustically. If you’re into re-imagined acoustic songs by Taking Back Sunday, I would strongly suggest Live From Orensanz, which truly saw the band experiment wonderfully in a live setting with far better results.
(Additional note from Cherie: I have to agree with Vas. The ‘Live From Orenanz’ album was much better produced, though it too was live. It has all the benefits of an acoustic album (reimagined versions of some of their most popular songs) but an overall better execution.)