Alright folks, here we are. The time has finally come. After having hyped about it for months hinting at it through this Summer’s most anticipated releases list and scrupulously analysed one of its single’s music video, my very own and utterly personal take on Taking Back Sunday’s 7th LP Tidal Wave is here. The 12-track, 48-minute long record dropped almost exactly a month ago (16th September) and was released on independent Californian label Hopeless Records, as it was the case for their previous effort Happiness Is. The album was recoded and produced in North Carolina by Tell All Your Friend-magician and Taking Back Sunday’s longtime friend Mike Sapone, who again worked on their 6th LP too. In fact, if you’re keen on learning more about the whole album-making process and behind-the-scenes insights from the Sioux Sioux studio in Charlotte (NC) where everything took place – which to me is as equally fascinating as the finished product itself – the label recently put out a nice making-of video reportage of the whole recording process.
Actually, because of the existence of said footage and so as to preserve some of its exclusive value, I’m going to spare you the majority of the details as well as the background of what led the actual album to be recorded alongside some of the main creative narratives behind it, trying to get straight to what in the end represents the essence of it with no further ado: the music itself. However, there is one thing I’d like to mention indeed, namely the fact that this record represents the first time in the band’s history that the same line-up has released three records in a row. That is, up until this point the NY outfit always changed at least some parts of its formation before completing a third consecutive album with the same one (they got close after 2004’s Where You Want to Be and Louder Now two years after, only to be disrupted by shaky departures of bass player Matt Rubano and lead guitarist Fred Mascherino before 2009’s New Again [!] was put out). Moreover, the realisation that this very personal and to be fair not very impressive accomplishment is to be obtained with the OG line up that started it all in the first place, I think speaks for something that makes the gestation of Tidal Wave a little more special.
For this record the band abandoned the not very fortuned choice of a “preface”-like instrumental opener to dances (see Happiness Is), but rather come straight to the point with “Death Wolf”. And boy, oh boy, do they get straight to the point with a fast, edgy, and punky rollercoaster that in some ways is set to deceive the listener after its first ambient-y overture minute. This track is right to be placed at number one for many reasons, and even after a solid good month of repetitive listens to the whole effort to me it’s the one that stays with you long after you’ve pressed stop. It’s got everything I like about this band: it’s raw, emotional, groovy, unpredictable and its lyrics are quintessential Adam Lazzara and John Nolan (the band’s lead lyricists). Moreover, the song’s hilarious, juxtapositional and at times genius “music video” makes for an even better listening experience. Plus, how cool is it to have a song called “Death Wolf”?! Just dope. The record continues with a duo of tracks, “Tidal Wave” and “You Can’t Look Back”, that were the ones already known to the large public being the first and second lead singles off the record. The title track at number two is an unapologetic tribute to some of the band’s main influences (The Ramones, The Clash, pure punk-rock more in general) and might as well be one of the catchiest songs Taking Back Sunday has ever written. To me a wonderful choice for both a title tracked-song and a first leading single. Fun fact is that, apparently, if it weren’t for drummer Mark O’Connell insisting on developing the song’s first raw ideas coming from John Nolan, the track might as well never have made the cut into the record. As for the following, third track, I’d spare you any more commentary and simply refer to a recent piece where I take a look at its music video (warning: it’s highly interpretable!).
The record then carries on to what might arguably be its most sophisticated and sonically mature part, showcasing the triade of songs “Fences”, “All Excess”, and “I Felt it Too”. At the same time, these tracks also represent some of the biggest departures in the band’s previous sounds, proposing solid and cohesive modern-day rock songs that encompass elaborated guitar sounds and unexpected electric/acoustic switches (“Fences”), incredible melodic feel entangled with signature emotional rawness (“All Excess”) as well as cradling, stripped down, and somehow hypnotic soundscapes that just don’t make you leave until the last note (“I Felt It Too”). From there, the album gets picked up by “Call Come Running”, a song that might have easily competed for first single from the start and that sees the band wearing their 80s influences pretty unapologetically offering another big, harmonic chorus similarly to what has long characterised one of Taking Back Sunday’s most widely appreciate traits. Next on the tracklist is “Holy Water”, and I have no shame in explicitly saying that, alongside “Death Wolf” and “Fences”, it is up there for the contender of personal favourite of the whole record. The track delivers emotionality from all its components and does a fantastic job in mixing songwriting, structure, and sound effects in a sustainable way that just works. In many ways it’s one of Taking Back Sunday’s best songs ever, in that I feel it enables each member to shine justifying their contribution in a way that actually enhances the creative constellation of the musical outcome without falling into risky self-referential schemes. “In the Middle of It All”, next one on the list, changes the landscape yet again pulling a lot of the band’s past sounds but reverting them back into a rocky production that has rarely been left so “dirty” and “gainy” ever before. Also, take a closer listen to Mark O’Connell’s drumming on this one, really going the extra mile delivering one of his best performances.
Tidal Wave, the artwork of which is as usual reported below and as a good friend of mine made me aware, has too many (more or less subtle) references to Nirvana’s Nevermind to go unnoticed, approaches its end with a trio of acoustic-led tracks, which from an overall musical standpoint could even make sense but unfortunately doesn’t really convince. My feeling is that one among the three tracks could’ve been left out (“We Don’t Go In There”?), a decision which by the way would’ve landed the record on to eleven tracks, which has always been the case for all previous Taking Back Sunday albums. While both “Homecoming” and “I’ll Find a Way to Make It What You Want” definitely have great ideas and display some interestingly looking-forward folk/americana influences, I just can’t abandon the sensation that the three tracks presented like this in a subsequent row are hard to sustain. Shame, because as just hinted at it would’ve been enough to simply drop one tune and it would’ve made for an even more brilliant record, overall. In other words, this kind of track listing ending has sometimes found me quitting the album listening experience at its peak, i.e. just after “In the Middle of It All”, not so much for lack of excitement to carry on but rather for impending fear of bringing this record “back to normality”, where it definitely shouldn’t be.
With that said, Tidal Wave is no doubt up there in the pantheon of Taking Back Sunday’s best work, representing a perfect snapshot of where the band is at right now both personally and artistically. There’s a lot of maturity, sound development, and lyrical refinement to be found among the twelve album tracks. In this regard, one of the things that work best here to me are song transitions, as they’re never hard placed or in any way forced, making for an extremely seamless and streamlined listening experience and giving even more legitimacy to the concept of “album” as a whole. The overall feeling is that with this release the band is at its most transparent and honest it has ever been, while one can totally tell that something special was started again by the original line up when they reunited with their 2011’s self titled record. The musical and lyrical narrative of the current incarnation 2.0 is there to be grasped with full force and in a much more tangible way than ever before, and this is successfully accompanied by innate compositional talent too. All in all, to keep this progress going, it simply looks like the NY alternative rock veterans have no other choice other than to ride this (tidal) wave for many, many other years to come.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
TAKING BACK SUNDAY
2016, Hopeless Records