(Taking Back) Taking Back Sunday

Is it too early to get nostalgic about emo?

Mentioning the album Tell All Your Friends to anyone who had a semi-serious interest in early 2000’s pop punk is sure to elicit a response that’s dually earnest and self-mocking.

Emo bands of this era are rock and roll’s feral children. Taking Back Sunday, who released the album in question, are part of a larger group of bands like Brand New and Thursday who shared the same reliance on angular riffs, obsessively wordy hooks and a penchant for inter-band and inter-scene drama that makes the Beatles breakup seem lazy. (For a more thorough history lesson, this explains the controversy surrounding the split and feuds the band had better than I could condense in a few sentences.)

The ‘classic lineup’ of TBS fractured only a year after the disc was released, and they’ve gone through a ‘Spinal Tap’ number of musicians since. For some reason, they reformed for a short tour and a forthcoming album this year. Fickle babies.

A confession: I’ve never listened to it. Until now. I don’t know why I missed it the first time around. I liked Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon and Thursday’s Full Collapse, so it seemed like a logical move. It just never happened. I assume it was indifference or the fact I was way too caught up listening to Incubus and Dave Matthews Band and didn’t want to be bothered.

Times have changed. For the past few weeks, I’ve finally given a few hard listens to this totem. Let’s discuss.

“We were such magnificent liars,” sings Adam Lazzara. “So crush me baby, I’m all ears/ so obviously desperate/so desperately obvious.” That’s the sound of my sophomore year of high school, watching those girls – long haired waifs who wore Abercrombie and Fitch threads – transform overnight into thrift store junkies with choppy haircuts. Obvious. Desperate. Like them, it seems. There’s something uncomfortable about that notion. Like this song. Like those lyrics.

The layered, overlapping vocal style in use here has become a genre hallmark. A propulsive opener, but not exactly memorable. That shows up a few songs later, with “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)”.

It’s my favorite cut on the record, with a late-80’s college rock jangle recalling faint memories of the Smiths. The sharp notes punctuate and break away to an anomalous chorus: ‘And will you tell all your friends/you’ve got your gun to my head?’. Silly, but it works. Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan exchange heroic vocal interplay, and it conjures a memory I never had: driving to Steak and Shake late at night in Lake in the Hills with the windows down on my red 1996 Ford Taurus. My friends and I would be shouting the lyrics at the top of our lungs before our milkshakes. When we were done, we’d go home and post snippets of lyrics on our LiveJournals among photos of Jordan Pundik.

There’s more of the same with “Timberwolves at New Jersey,” which, to my disappointment, was not about basketball, nor was “Great Romances of the 20th Century” about love. Well, a healthy love, at least.

Of course, these lead up to one unforgettable moment. One lyric to define an entire genre of music, and it’s right in “You’re So Last Summer”.

The truth is you could slit my throat
And with my one last gasping breath
I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt

This is the moment you hit the water after being thrown into a pool with all of your clothes on. It’s shocking, uncomfortable and really wet, like the audience this song panders to. Also, it’s totally hilarious. At the time, the lyric was relevant to many disilliusioned teenagers, but as they’ve grown up, gotten over and moved on, the song has morphed from an anthem to weighty, melodramatic trash. If emo karaoke ever catches on, this is it’s “We Are The World” – well, that or any U2 song.

I suppose it’s this, really: Tell All Your Friends isn’t a bad record, but it’s not a good one either. Many mediocre genre records somehow transform into well loved classics simply because they refined the formula before others could. This is the case for Taking Back Sunday. They set the template for so many copycat bands to follow. Some are still chasing that dream too long after it can be taken seriously.

I can see why some may find that last statement unfair. I’m twenty-four. I’ve got close to ten years of music listening and analysis behind me. I’ve fallen in and out of love with many bands. Maybe I’m too old, and my moment with this record is eight years too late. If Taking Back Sunday were the first to the dance, then I arrived right in the middle of the last song, when I probably should have stayed home in the first place.