Taking Back Sunday have never really released a bad record, New Again coming closest for myself. It’s one of the reasons that the band have continued to grow and gain popularity after they dropped their Tell All Your Friends sound and moved on to more mature ventures, even if they did divide in between. With the original line-up back together Happiness Is is another first class lesson in consistency from a band that never really disappoints. Of course, when you’re up to your sixth studio album consistency doesn’t always cut it, and thankfully Happiness Is is good enough that it does, and then some.
Happiness Is begins with a song very unlike Taking Back Sunday, with the band normally preferring to jump right in instead of wasting time with a relatively pointless opener, as is the case with Preface, which serves very little purpose. Once it passes though the record perks up, and does so instantly with explosive lead single Flicker, Fade which explodes with a pummeling energy before dropping off to a mellower tone and trademark Adam Lazzara vocals before rising back up for a huge and anthemic chorus. As an ‘opener’ it’s solid, and sees the band opt for a more traditional and honed approach to songwriting, not necessarily trying anything new but doing enough to do it very well. At their peak very few artists can match Taking Back Sunday, and the first real track on Happiness Is is a golden example. From here the band’s sixth studio album and second since the reformation has more highs than lows, and to some degree it’s a mixed bag made up of the hugely memorable and the slightly forgettable. Stood A Chance is the former, churning along in a style reminiscent of The Gaslight Anthem, making for another catchy anthem, whilst following track All The Way is the latter, slowing things down with some clever instrumentals but not really leaving a significant mark outside of a dynamic final thirty seconds. Eighth track Better Homes And Gardens is where Taking Back Sunday really come good, and it’s easily the records best track, narrowly edging out Flicker, Fade. The track is also the most personal, and it shows a more emotional side to the band that often provides the standout moments (My Blue Heaven, New American Classic), covering Lazzara’s cancelled engagement with lines like ‘When you took that ring off / I sat there stunned parked out in my car / surprised by what you’d done’ giving it away. It’s a moving track that packs a punch alongside some apparently well needed closure as Lazzara pours himself into the track, with the other members contributing likewise, making for a song that makes the second half of Happiness Is, mixing aggression, emotion and exceptional songwriting into a stunning and absorbing blend.
The main thing that struck me about Happiness Is is how well it all comes together. There’s a real sense of cohesion between each subsequent area and as a whole everything comes together brilliantly. It’s not a huge surprise with Marc Jacob Hudson and Mike Sapone on production, both of who are familiar with the band having worked with them before. As a result there’s a polish to Happiness Is that benefits it immensely, be it on the hazier moments of We Were Younger Then or the high intensity of the vigorous and fun Like You Do. Guitarist John Nolan’s melodic vocals well complement Lazzara’s more varied delivery, especially on tracks like acoustic closer Nothing At All which flickers with a delicate vulnerability before climbing and climbing, adding layers in the process, to a startling climax before fading. The emphatic Beat Up Car feature some more fast paced trade-offs which work equally well, although as expected Lazzara takes centre stage throughout, giving a great performance as per usual. Instrumentally the record shines, with Better Homes And Gardens and Stood A Chance being gorgeously composed, and I can’t recall Taking Back Sunday ever sounding as confident as they do here. The entire record bristles with a youthful energy, which some critics have criticised the band for in the past, but I don’t see how Taking Back Sunday would function properly without it. Admittedly, lyrics are occasionally cheesy and simplistic, and maybe Like You Do contains a few clumsy transitions, but in general the band seems to have upped their game considerably, and this is what really makes Happiness Is their best album since Louder Now. Taking Back Sunday sound like an improved version of Taking Back Sunday (both the band and the record) – and that’s pretty fucking great news for fans of material both past and present. There’s a very Where You Want To Be feel to it all which works well with a more mature and advanced approach to composition and content, and above all else Happiness Is sounds 100% like a Taking Back Sunday record, and that’s what really sells it.
Admittedly, I’d take Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want To Be over Happiness Is any day of the week, but that isn’t much of a criticism considering how highly I value the bands earlier work. Taking Back Sunday’s sixth album contains a lot of standout moments, as well as a few weaker songs that fall flat, but taken as a whole it’s a big improvement on the bands eponymous fifth album that sees them continue to gel and really find their feet again after several years apart.
Rating – 8/10
Listen to: Flicker, Fade / It Takes More / Better Homes And Gardens