Taking Back Sunday - New Again
Record Label: Warner Bros.
Release Date: June 2, 2009
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in (anamerican)Atlanta, one of the most courageous finishes came from young gymnast Kerri Strug, who was the female gymnastics team’s key to nabbing the all-around gold medal. After damaging her ankle in a previous event, she was determined to earn that 9.6 for her team and her country. As many recall, she did it with style and ease, springing off the vault like a torpedo and coming to land on one foot. This remarkable feat of strength won over an entire country and earned Strug the right to brag about being “that American bitch that showed up the world by winning gold on one foot.”
There is a lesson to be learned here when using Strug’s heartwarming tale about giving it your all and performing under all the pressure in the world. That lesson is one veteran rock band Taking Back Sunday could have heard before going in to record their fourth full-length album and second for Warner Brothers, New Again. Both agonizingly disappointing and desperately upsetting, it is a record which lacks grit & determination, two key elements that lock an album together and revive the well-worn formula bands urgently need after four discs in the bag. After the departure of co-vocalist Fred Mascherino, it’s quite obvious the band is looking for a new direction, however their identity lacks the focus of past efforts – yes, even the lukewarmly-received Louder Now. Recruiting former Facing New York axman Matt Fazzi to take over Mascherino’s place seems to only work in theory, as his presence here receives very little hoopla. Longtime producer David Kahne (Sublime, Sugar Ray) blends the slightly-hollowed production from Louder Now with his trademarked polish, making for a record that sounds uneven in parts due to the trade-off of cleanliness versus rawness (in more ways than one).
Now, the similarities between Ms. Strug and Taking Back Sunday don’t simply end at the previously-mentioned analogy. Musically speaking, it’s all very well choreographed; the tightly-condensed rhythms recall a fresh-faced quintet from Long Island when they first bust forth on the scene writing angry songs that spoke to post-high school crowds. Mark O’Connell creates electrifying and vivid beats that almost lure the songs in opposite directions, which he singlehandedly does on the first single, “Sink Into Me.” Eddie Reyes can still punch out a solid foundation to carry the songs in an easy direction, and with Fazzi now bringing in a bit of alternative art-rock experience into the fold, the fuzz guitars on the title track and “Catholic Knees” gives a welcome edge to the band’s rock sound. Matt Rubano is again pushed back a bit, much like he was on Louder Now, yet he does make “Carpathia” sound full of vigor. The delicacy, the grace, the finesse – it all seems to be there, and ultimately provides the band with the recipe for success. There’s just one (big) minor problem…
Kerri Strug’s ultimate downfall was her agonizing vocal pitch, something which was often parodied by many late-night television shows in the 90’s. If the band did indeed try to replicate the beauty and style of a gymnastics team, Adam Lazzara picked the wrong athlete to emulate. New Again’s gaping hole that shines through is essentially Lazzara, who is so schizophrenic as a vocalist, it’s difficult to find his delivery appealing. Many times, his odd pronunciations and speaking patterns make lyrics difficult to decipher, and cause a great deal of frustration throughout the disc. However, his largest handicap is his songwriting, which took a swift dive with the absence of John Nolan and now, Mascherino. There doesn’t seem to ever be a distinct focus maintained, and far too many lyrics are placed on repeat and are such retreads of earlier songs, they are forgotten as quickly as they come on (“Lonely, Lonely” is the main perpetrator here). Lazzara is a repeat offender is more ways than one, clogging up the middle section of New Again with misled nostalgia trips that lack a solid hook (“Swing”), syrupy self-confessionals that are too derivative (“Where My Mouth Is”) and messy, garbage-disposal serenades that show off Lazzara’s temperamental flair for wigging out with no particular justified reason (“Cut Me Up Jenny”). That penchant for manic screeches and clenched-teeth tension only takes you so far on so many tracks.
“Summer, Man” harks back to the post-Tell All Your Friends days though, with a low-key melody that ought to perk the ears of older fans, and “Everything Must Go” is a truly well-written ballad that balances the record’s finale. As to what happens in-between, however, well that is questionable. “Capital M-E” is a jab at Mascherino that does exemplify Lazzara’s apathy quite effectively, yet it’s just too mild to include on the disc. In between the full-throttle rush of “Carpathia” and “Catholic Knees,” it gives the record a sense of disjointed satisfaction. Struggling to appeal to the first efforts in their catalog that brought in their die-hard fanbase, while maintaining a new direction on where they want to take their music, New Again sadly feels like much of the same and lacks the spark that gave this band such gravitas in the first place (more Fazzi vocals next time, please).
Taking Back Sunday will not be making that perfect landing for their team. They will not be appearing on a Wheaties box anytime soon. They will not be whisked away by a mustached Ukranian man. New Again is part of a highlight reel that zeroes in on disappointment and raises questions from fans who want answers. Answers, though, are unlikely to come, and by the time the reel is about to wrap it up, there will be few people sticking around to hear them out.
nice review, i kinda agree for the most part, but i dont think its as bad as most think, it has definately grown on me. id give it about at 65-70% though. sink into me, carpthia, everything must go, new again and catholic knees are the only songs i find myself going back to regularly. its a big change, and it works for me, but doesnt seem to grab the angst of everyone else on this site.
and id agree adam's voals aren't as good as they were on louder now. some parts are better some parts are worse. oh well.
hopefully their next album is a return to form. and for me that would be louder now, not tayf.
Nice review, but I'd give it about 65-70%. I like Adam Lazarra's vocal delivery for the most part.
I think Creativity at 4.25 is too low. There are some great songs on this album, with a few filler tracks (Where My Mouth Is, Cut Me Up Jenny, Catholic Knees) that bring it down.