You can describe the Taking Back Sunday fandom by imagining a simple Venn diagram: one circle contains fans who only enjoy the Tell All Your Friends version, the other full of fans that prefer the band’s major label output (Louder Now and New Again). And then there’s the small intersection of fans who prefer a little bit of everything from Taking Back Sunday’s vast and diverse discography. You can see why the majority of TBS news threads are littered with hundreds of differing opinions.
The band’s sixth record, however, looks to bring those two sides together. Happiness Is is Taking Back Sunday’s first independent release in almost ten years (via Hopeless Records) and delivers that indie spirit throughout its eleven tracks. That energy is immediately felt on opening single “Flicker, Fade.” Clashing cymbals and soaring guitar chords are the backdrop as Adam Lazzara softly sings, “If you should change your name/I’d love you just the same/and if you’d run away/I’d save your place.” It’s oddly comforting, with its eruptive and incredibly catchy chorus sandwiched with the band’s mastery of soft/loud/soft dynamics. It also re-introduces John Nolan and Mark O’Connell back to the mix. Both musicians seemed lost in the overall recording of Taking Back Sunday, and on “Flicker, Fade,” Nolan delivers his impassioned yells (which buoy the song’s chaotic outro), while O’Connell’s raucous drumming gives the track (and the rest of Happiness Is) its spine.
The rest of Happiness Is is presented with the challenge of living up to the pure euphoria of “Flicker, Fade.” The band tries to continue the momentum with the jittery “Stood A Chance” (which really doesn’t hit the spot its final minute), but “All The Way” and “Beat Up Car” come very close to matching that initial high. “Beat Up Car” showcases some of the passion that initially put the band on map with its squealing guitars interplaying nicely with the quick bursts of some vocal back-and-forth between Lazzara and Nolan.
It’s tracks like “Beat Up Car” and the frantic “They Don’t Have Any Friends” that pick up the sometimes plodding pace of the ballad-heavy Happiness Is. But that’s not to say those ballads are bland – the band touches each one up with interesting dynamics and flourishes into each one. The clear standouts are “It Takes More” and the destructive “Better Homes And Gardens.” The former reaches its peak three minutes in with a fiery final chorus, while the latter is a mid-tempo heartbreaker – lingering on a failed relationship as dueling guitars crash into Lazzara’s brutally honest lyrics. Happiness Is showcases how much each member of Taking Back Sunday has grown as an individual and a musician.
I wrote earlier this year that expectations for Taking Back Sunday needed to be re-adjusted and that the band members still needed time to feel each other out and write to their strengths while others believed the band was washed up for good. This LP will probably be the litmus test for OG TBS 2.0, considering they’ve now been touring and writing with each other again for the past three-plus years. While the band may never recapture the dizzying highs of that past, listeners shouldn’t want a band to pander to a specific moment of time. Taking Back Sunday is content with being one of the best alt-rock bands out there instead of bearing the burden of this scene. Happiness is defined differently by every one. For Taking Back Sunday, it just might be re-discovering the path the band’s always wanted to be on.