“So sick, so sick of being tired/And oh so tired of being sick/We’re both such magnificent liars/So crush me baby, I’m all ears.”
These are the words that open Tell All Your Friends, the debut full-length album by the Long Island band Taking Back Sunday. Although the band had been together for some three years by the time of the album’s 2002 release, they had undergone numerous lineup changes—including a new lead singer—and had just recently solidified their sound, with Adam Lazzara mainly at the helm vocal-wise, with support from guitarist and founding member John Nolan. The two also shared songwriting and lyric writing duties on the album.
Tell All Your Friends grabs the listener’s attention from the start. The album begins with feedback before Nolan’s ringing guitar riff and Mark O’Connell’s fast-paced, sliding drum line jolt “You Know How I Do” into action. And then, less than fifteen seconds into the song, Lazzara begins singing the lines given at the beginning of this review. “So sick, so sick of being tired…” However, the listener isn’t just hearing vocals Lazzara recorded for some song because it sounds good. When you listen to the songs on Tell All Your Friends, it really is so much more than entertainment. At the risk of sounding cliché, you feel what Lazzara (or Nolan) is feeling.
Tell All Your Friends manages to convey feelings that are completely genuine, not contrived, rehearsed or formulaic, without being over-the-top or sappy. The style in which Lazzara and Nolan deliver the vocals on this album, often in a rapid-fire, back-and-forth way, as if they were carrying on a dialogue, allows you to really attach to and get a sense of the raw emotion behind the songs. This organic emotion is what drives the album; although most of this comes across in the vocals and lyrics of the album, the music matches the album’s tone perfectly. From the beautiful, flange-driven intro of “Great Romances of the 20th Century” to the intense, minor-key breakdown during the bridge of “Timberwolves at New Jersey” to the fast-paced, aggressive riffing during the verses of “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team),” the instrumentation on the album doesn’t justmatch its tone, it adds to it.
“You Know How I Do,” the album’s opener, makes an abrupt transition after the second chorus. Nearly every song on this album features a “breakdown,” if you will, as the song progresses, that usually features the two vocalists singing different parts over each other, often escalating into a sort-of impassioned near-scream common on the album, especially with Nolan. The song will often soften during the breakdown, before escalating back to and beyond its former energy. Sometimes the song returns to its normal structure, sometimes it doesn’t. While this may sound like songwriting by numbers, the method really doesn’t get old; no two songs on the album utilize this technique in the exact same way.
The second track on the album, “Bike Scene” begins as a mid-tempo song with pop-punk palm-muted guitar and Lazzara singing about meaning business. The bridge/breakdown features vocals from Michelle Nolan (John Nolan’s sister). Another notable track is “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” which is perhaps the best example of Lazzara and Nolan’s call-and–return, cut-and-cut-back vocal style. Also mentionable are “The Blue Channel,” which segues from a piano intro into about two minutes of pure emotional intensity as Lazzara sings, “Regardless/If my pictures/They don’t line your mirrors,” and “Head Club,” the album’s final track, which ends the album with John belting “Don’t call my name out your window, I’m leaving!,” while Adam sings “I’m sick of writing every song/I’m sick of writing every song about you” over him.
And, last but not least, there is “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team).” This song received a tiny bit of mainstream recognition, with its Fight Club-themed music video getting a little airtime. From the four guitar chords that open the song to the three that close it, this song is three-and-a-half minutes of power and beauty. “And will you tell all your friends/You’ve got your gun to my head/This all was only wishful thinking,” Adam wails during the chorus as John pleads, “The only thing I regret/Is that I never let you hold me back” The “breakdown” on this song is the best on the album, the tension building and building until it seems that it cannot grow any stronger—and then—the song is over. And the listener is left wondering what just happened and dying to press repeat—or at least I know that I was.
But the temptation does not last for long. Every song on the album is just that good. One of this album’s greatest strengths is its brevity: only ten songs long, Tell All Your Friendsclocks in at under thirty-four minutes. There is absolutely no fat on this record; every move is both meticulous and necessary.
Since discovering Tell All Your Friends at the age of fourteen, I have fallen head-first into a world of music upon which I had previously merely dwelt on the outskirts. I have since fallen in love with a multitude of different bands, from The Get Up Kids to Glassjaw to Texas Is The Reason to Death Cab for Cutie to Saves the Day; I have fine-tuned my musical tastes. However, I have yet to find any album that matches or exceeds the raw emotion presented in Tell All Your Friends, and the way in which it is presented: simple yet complex, beautifully dissonant, urgent and self-possessed. Maybe my musical tastes are blindly adolescent. Maybe I just haven’t explored enough music. Or maybe I am simply jealous of Adam Lazzara and John Nolan’s way with words and organically honest vocal style. One way or another, I believe that this album objectively deserves its 90% rating.
John Nolan left Taking Back Sunday the year after this album was released, taking bassist Shaun Cooper with him, and founding Straylight Run. Tell All Your Friends was the only album to feature a style that included Nolan and Lazzara’s call-and-return, passionate vocals, and the only Taking Back Sunday full-length to include Nolan. While Taking Back Sunday’s three subsequent albums and Straylight Run’s two full-length albums are good, none of them come close to matching Tell All Your Friends. It truly is a one-in-a-million album. Please, if you do not have this album, I beg you: pick it up today, because I don’t think that you know what you’ve been missing.