I was initially taken aback by the abundance of hope on Tidal Wave, the latest record from early 00s emo poster-boys Taking Back Sunday. Having fallen in love with their music as a moody youngster who was developing a love for punk rock, not only is it strange to hear the band writing songs this bright and hopeful, it’s inspiring. If the same people who penned endlessly pathetic lyrics like, “You could slit my throat and with my one last gasping breath I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt,” can sound confident and happy all these years, later maybe so can I.
As the band has aged, more conventional and classic rock influences have sneaked into their brand of post-hardcore, softening their overall sound. Tidal Wave also reaches further back in time for influences, landing on country music and more modern, 70s era country-rock hybrids. While certainly interesting and moderately refreshing, some of these moments don’t work well.
The heavier sounds from their past, however, are still present. The album kicks off ominous and energetic with the track“Death Wolf.” A low buzzing transforms into an organ while Adam Lazarra imitating a lonely choir chants “Nobody” during the intro. The song eventually kicks into high gear. It is fast-paced and loud, and features fevered vocal performances from both Adam Lazarra and guitarist/vocalist John Nolan, whose strongest moments are and always have been his pained punk rock wails. The title track, “Tidal Wave,” has a similar energy but a decidedly political lyrical message; a rarity in the band’s catalogue.
On ballads like “Holy Water,” the attention to melodic detail in the instrumentals, excluding the crescendo, is held back by lead vocalist Adam Lazarra’s whiny and warbled delivery. During the intro to “We Don’t Go In There,” however, the quiet acoustic guitar melody was made much more dramatic and dynamic by Adam’s loose phrasing and tense voice. This attention to detail takes a bizarre turn on “In The Middle Of It All” when its upbeat rhythm and nostalgic lyrics are accompanied by inexplicable autotune during the bridge. Since so much of the album spends its time looking backwards, it makes no sense that such a modern sound makes an appearance here.
The slow, beautiful build on “I Felt It Too” and its crescendo make it my favourite song on the record. Adam’s voice possesses a rare beauty, and the lyrics contain the band’s signature sadness but matches the album’s general tone. It is rooted in thoughts about the past and its effect on the emotional realities of the present.
Exploring Americana and how it fits into their sound is an experiment, but when you’ve done as much to change the trajectory of punk music as Taking Back Sunday has, focusing on older forms of rock ‘n roll is unsatisfying and makes the songs sound stranger and cornier than they might have otherwise. The 15-year-old in me is disappointed this is the turn their sound has taken, while my more mature music nerd side enjoys the sonic variety. The width of the stylistic spectrum that each song covers makes Tidal Wave something of an exhausting listen and it feels entirely too long. This problem is compounded by the fact that the last song is its longest and one of the softest. “I’ll Find A Way To Make It Work” features oddly manipulated acoustic guitar parts, piano and wind instruments. It’s an effective summation of the competing sounds on this record and why I might never care about a new Taking Back Sunday album again.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy