Sound — 6
Funny how the thing that ushered a new lease on life for Taking Back Sunday was backtracking to the likes of their early days. Having admitted that they didn't like the direction the band was heading after 2009's "New Again," founder and frontman Adam Lazzara would reconcile with founding members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper to reunite the band's original lineup. Not only was this reunion a timely one for the 10-year anniversary of their imperative post-hardcore debut album, "Tell All Your Friends," but the rehashing of their post-hardcore sound in their self-titled fifth album would act as a recalibration for the band, almost like what the follow-up to their debut album would have been in the alternate universe where Nolan and Cooper never left in the first place.
With their sixth album, 2014's "Happiness Is," starting to adopt more of a pop rock flavor in its recipe, TBS's new album, "Tidal Wave," takes a step further in that direction. Numerous cases of this comes in the form of '80s alt-rock influences stitched into their pop punk style - heard in the flanger-heavy "In the Middle of It All," the guitar melodies in "All Excess," or the new wave synth riff in "Call Come Running" - which actually calls back to the bits of '80s influence found in "Tell All Your Friends." These additions may work, but the more contemporary pop rock frills that appear in songs end up being more cumbersome. While the ballady intro to the classic TBS-style jam of "Death Wolf" and the morose rouser "We Don't Go in There" do alright, the canned strings in "Fences" and the desperately anthemic "Homecoming" fail to excite despite their bells and whistles.
Apropos of this increase in pop direction, a sense of pretention can also be found in some of the songwriting in "Tidal Wave." The pop rock cut of "Holy Water" meanders longer than it needs to in its final riff, and again leaning on ample production value, "I Felt It Too" starts with a gentle, Mogwai-esque arrangement and makes a patience-trying climb to a peak that doesn't pay off. Contrarily, the final "I'll Find a Way to Make It What You Want" succeeds in its ambition, where reverse-recorded acoustic guitar chords later grows into a loud rocking crest, but given everything previously mentioned about the qualities and drawbacks of this elaboration, the album's eponymous track (and lead single) being a simple, straightforward punk song feels very out of place compared to the rest of the album wanting to be grander in its sound.
Lyrics — 7
Lazzara had discussed how his lyrical approach in TBS's previous album was more direct compared to his vague lyric writing in earlier TBS albums, resulting in a lot of unequivocal tragedy displayed in "Happiness Is." For the most part, this straightforwardness continues in "Tidal Wave." Lazzara's messages are easy to digest in a number of cases, like the notion of "ignorance is bliss" in "We Don't Go in There" ("Nobody knows, nobody cares / About the how and why and where"), terminality in the eponymous song ("You can beg, you can plead, you can cry, you can pray / But nothing's gonna save you from the tidal wave"), a one-off affair turned into a stronger connection in "Call Come Running" ("I was leaving you alone but still / I was hoping you were some place near"), or the simple but repetitive return home in "Homecoming."
Lazzara does take a couple turns back to the vague side, and while the little-to-grip context of "All Excess" isn't that compelling, the grim imagery of "Fences" offers more, alluding to living under a despotic regime ("I put my faith in a violent man / He was the only one I could trust / He built fences tied in razor wire / Borders drawn in blood"). Lazzara also tends to recurring themes in a few cases as well, contrasting the feeling of being big within a small apartment in Brooklyn in "Death Wolf" ("I felt like a giant when I sat beside you") to feeling miniscule while observing the skyline in "I Felt It Too" ("I felt so small still I couldn't look away / And I had nothing to say"), and calling back to the scenes of divorce in "Happiness Is," the narrative in "I'll Find a Way to Make It What You Want" continues that theme of a breaking home once more ("I guess this is as good a time as any / Threatening to kick me out of the house / Like waiting on a heart attack").
Overall Impression — 6
It's no surprise to see TBS reaching out from their pop punk home range and striving to grab ahold of a sound with more dimensions to it, but in an album that throws plenty of new ideas at the wall, only a few stick. The '80s influences found come off well when mixed into their dependable pop punk formula, but the steps further into cheery pop rock territory and glitzy production value are bound to leave some listeners unsatisfied. Ultimately, "Tidal Wave" is a mixed listen from front to back.