After years of chasing their tails, trying to replicate the charms of Tell All Your Friends and assuredness of Louder Now to no avail, Long Island’s second best post-hardcore band finally produced an album that lived up to their first three in Happiness Is, after realising that they didn’t need to repeat themselves ad infinitum in order to write good music. If that album was Taking Back Sunday finally growing up, Tidal Wave is the first in which they’re fully embracing their newfound maturity. Surprisingly enough, this involves abandoning their roots almost completely in favour of artistic reference points your dad would probably love. There’s more of The Clash’s rootsy punk here than there is Quicksand’s NY HxC, but it doesn’t sound appropriated. If anything, TBS sound more energised and vital here than they have for the past decade.
There are hints of aggression in the multi-layered vocals on “Death Wolf” and the title track, but otherwise Tidal Wave is characterised by earthy heartland rock and smooth Americana cool. Energy is by no means sacrificed, nor the aptitude for a chorus that’ll pull a room together in song – “Call Come Running” ticks both those boxes in one go. But when Taking Back Sunday does rock out here, they’re evoking bands like Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem. Vocalist Adam Lazzara does an admirable job of tempering his vocals to the new musical direction, albeit straying into direct Springsteen parody on the chorus of “All Excess”. He also occasionally decides he can sing in a much higher register than he’s actually capable in, almost wholly ruining “Holy Water” by doing so.
Some aspects of this sonic shift have left Taking Back Sunday a less interesting band than previously (bassist Shaun Cooper gets less room to explore the ranges of the songs), but curiously enough it’s when they most firmly embrace their new leanings that they write the best music. “You Can’t Look Back” takes the dusty cool of Tom Petty and his songwriting nous too. Best of all is “We Don’t Go In There”, a one part muted foreboding, one part poisonous polemic of a mid-tempo number that stands out via both icy guitar leads and a wonderfully dramatic Lazzara performance. It’s a shame that the band can’t hit the same high standards on “I Felt It Too”, the quietest of the songs that starts well but doesn’t take its potential anywhere.
Tidal Wave saves its most striking deviations for the end, first in the pomp and circumstance of “Homecoming”, then the bizarre backmasked guitars and freewheeling drums that push the vocals to the background on “I’ll Find a Way to Make It What You Want”. It’s appropriate for an album that moves the Taking Back Sunday blueprint so far to the left to bring things to a close with a song so shapeless, and thus exciting. There are clear audible growing pains, manifesting in a less varied record than its predecessor, but Tidal Wave is more consistent in quality. Few bands make such an abrupt change on album number seven – fewer still do as effectively as Taking Back Sunday has.