Published Oct 11, 2019Taking Back Sunday arrived at a particularly fortuitous moment. The early oughts were a heady time for bands spilling their guts over hooky punk and post-hardcore riffs. Emo, the once-maligned sub-genre of a sub-genre, was having a moment and adjacent bands (as always, few wanted to be associated with the label) like the Get Up Kids, Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day were finding a growing audience for their earnest, heart-on-sleeve songs.
Long Island, NY's Taking Back Sunday were no opportunists — they were founded by scene vets Eddie Reyes (Movielife) and Jesse Lacey in 1999. But by the time their debut album, Tell All Your Friends, landed in 2002 (now being reissued on vinyl in newly remastered form by Craft Recordings), people were primed for their knowing intensity.
They built their sound on the post-hardcore foundation of fellow Long Islanders Glassjaw and imbued it with both emo's passion and pop punk's hooks and winking sense of humour. A demo CD caught the ear of a Victory Records A&R who signed the band, and the resulting record was made with producer Sal Villanueva for $10,000 in two weeks. And while the band were unhappy with some of the mixing choices made on the album, after its release in spring 2002, Tell All Your Friends sold more than 100,000 copies in the first year of its release.
This new reissue, issued for the band's 20th anniversary, comes with no extra material or liner notes. The remaster is fine, but its arrival is more of an opportunity to give the record its critical due. Taking Back Sunday, like so many of their peers, were never given proper critical respect they always deserved, while looking at their music through a more contemporary lens.
While it's tinged with lyrics around mental health, addiction, and scores in need of settling — as is the case with so much of the music from this era — Tell All Your Friends is primarily about a girl (or girls — it's never made clear if the paramour is a single ex or a composite). In keeping with the times of its creation, Tell All Your Friends is guilty of the narrative laid-out in Jessica Hopper's cutting (and accurate) 2003 essay "Where the Girls Aren't." "Girls in emo songs today do not have names," she wrote. "We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we've caused."
Though it doesn't let them off the hook, give credit where credit is due: the band mostly avoid the similarly pervasive "blame the girl" trope. Likewise, the self-portrait painted by co-singers and lyricists Adam Lazzara and John Nolan is not pretty, but it is self-aware. "There are certain things I promised not to let you know," he sings on "Bike Scene." They know the narrator is keeping things from his partner, eroding their relationship in the process. But that was the devil's bargain they struck. Where their peers played misunderstood victim, Lazzara and Nolan framed themselves as sympathetic scoundrels. Whether that makes them any more noble than the next front-person is up for debate, but at least they tried to be different.
Similarly, Lazzara and Nolan were no bedroom diarists; rather, they were the tattooed and screaming embodiment of Lloyd Dobler, out on the lawn blasting their feelings for all the world to hear, their words delivered in a call-and-response manner that only ups the drama. If there's an imaginary line where emo moved from suburban white boys in the corner getting all up in their feelings into the flailing histrionics of Thursday and over-the-top drama kid theatrics of My Chemical Romance, Tell All Your Friends is it.
When they weren't engaging in some self-mythologizing, they were busy feeding emo's greatest (only?) on-record beef, taking aim at Long Island scene frenemy Jesse Lacey. Lacey had founded Taking Back Sunday with guitarist Eddie Reyes, but left after a fight over a mutual crush with childhood friend Nolan. Lacey formed Brand New and fired several shots at his former bandmate on the Brand New's own debut. But where Lacey imagined his friend dying in a bloody car crash, Nolan take aim at Lacey's skills on the mic on "Timberwolves at New Jersey: "Those words at best were worse than teenage poetry / Fragment ideas and too many pronouns." He's also re-appropriates some of those words on "There's No 'I' in Team."
Scoundrels tend to build their lives like a house of cards and the whole thing came quickly tumbling down. Over conflicts with Lazzara, Nolan and Cooper left the band in 2003 (they re-joined seven years later) and formed Straylight Run. While the band would soldier on to transcend their scene and genre, the dynamic that Lazzara and Nolan had created was never recaptured. It gave the music an immediacy that they've never matched, which is why even though they'd have more popular and more skilful records, Tell All Your Friends will always loom large over the band's career. (Craft)