Review: Taking Back Sunday – ‘Happiness Is’

Artist: Taking Back Sunday
Album: Happiness Is
Label: Hopeless Records
Genre: Alt Rock

Taking Back Sunday are onto something great with their sixth studio album.

After reuniting their original lineup for 2011’s self-titled release, Taking Back Sunday shook off the shackles of their major label contract and joined the Hopeless Records family. It was a smart move for the band, as there may be no label more passionate about their roster than Hopeless, but to many including myself it also symbolized a return to the independent roots that gave the band their start. In a similar sense, Happiness Is feels like a return to the beginning for Taking Back Sunday, with the group settling into a decidedly mature sound that opens up a world of possibility for future releases.

Skipping the needless opener, which features string instruments and little more, Happiness Is truly kicks off with the album’s first single, “Flicker, Fade.” It’s a grower of a song, with hints of the band’s first album shining through the alternative sound they’ve championed on more recent releases, and in the context of the album feels a bit like an appetizer meant to wet the pallet for everything that awaits on the album’s nine remaining tracks. “Stood A Chance,” however, brings the latest evolution of TBS’ sound to the center of frame and wraps it with a fist pump inducing hook that would make Three Cheers era My Chemical Romance proud. The latter half of the track plays like the breakdown of a heart that dared to love too much, and it transitions beautifully into the atmospheric paradise that is “All The Way.” It’s yet another example of the continuing evolution of Taking Back Sunday, and at times it is downright gorgeous, but in classic TBS style there is an emotional gut punch of pure rock fury waiting in the final minute to catch listeners off guard.

If the first half of Happiness Is finds Taking Back Sunday showcasing their new sound and the various ways they can present it to listeners, then the back half of the record finds them settling into a groove of adult situations and hindsight that boasts some of their best musical offerings to date. It begins with the melancholy reflection of “It Takes More” and builds to deeply emotionally “Nothing At All,” with elements of their angsty younger selves littered along the way. “Better Homes And Gardens,” specifically, plays like a sequel to the back half of Where You Want To Be (only with additional influence from John Nolan and Sean Cooper, of course).

It pains me to admit this, but there were moments on the self-titled release from Taking Back Sunday when I thought all the hype surrounding the reformation of the Long Island’s golden sons had been a hot fuss we would all soon live to regret. The album was good, but not great, and felt more like a lukewarm collection of tracks than a focused musical offering. It was as if the group had tried to find a more mature version of their earlier sound while creating the album, as opposed to finding it and then moving forward with new material. That’s all changed now, and the boys who fought have become the men who put the past behind them and found new paths to happiness. 

This is the Taking Back Sunday album you have been waiting for, even if you did not know there was a TBS release you desperately needed to have in your life, and it could very well be one of your favorite releases of 2014 when all is said and done. It is by far the most mature Taking Back Sunday release to date, but at the same time boasts as much infectious fun as any release in their catalog, while somehow still finding time to break your heart a half dozen times or so between the opening and closing track. Happiness Is…an experience. Don’t miss out.

Score: 8.5/10

Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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One Response to “Review: Taking Back Sunday – ‘Happiness Is’”

  1. K. Bennett says:

    I am still struggling to really get into it where I can just leave it playing and jam. Not to say that I can’t see how great it is. Seriously, fantastic. I think it is more of an issue with my taste in music changing from where it was back when I could listen to nothing but TBS. Every time I hear John’s vocals I just with there was more of them.