Taking Back Sunday's 'Happiness Is' and Being Left Behind by the Emo Revival

Taking Back Sunday's sixth full-length album, Happiness Is, comes out Tuesday. The "emo-rock" band is now fifteen years old, likely the same age you were when you listened to them, and still putting out new music. But make no mistake: Taking Back Sunday's emo is not that of the emo revival. 

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Taking Back Sunday's sixth full-length album, Happiness Is, comes out Tuesday. The band is now fifteen years old, likely the same age you were when you listened to it, and still putting out music.

But what do you call a band like Taking Back Sunday? Emo? Theirs certainly isn't that of the emo revival. Taking Back Sunday and its contemporaries grew out of some bastardized wave of emo, and instead of finding themselves in the midst of a revival, they simply linger, closer to (gasp!) Nickelback-esque radio rock than anything slapped with the emo tag now.

Not quite old enough to inspire nostalgia, Taking Back Sunday still seems like a band from the past, one of those bands you hear mentioned in passing and say, “Oh, remember them?” and then go back to not paying attention. Or if you do listen, you listen to the songs you listened to way back when, certainly not the latest songs. But there are indeed new songs.

And TBS isn’t the only band of this ilk coming out with new music this month. Remember The Used? A band even more steeped in teen angst than Taking Back Sunday, The Used are putting out a new album on April 1 and are co-headliners on TBS’ tour cross-country tour. Or how about Hawthorne Heights – have we all managed to cleanse “Ohio Is For Lovers” from our collective consciousness? – whose lead singer is also releasing an album this week?

These are the bands forgotten by the so-called emo revival. No one seems in a hurry to bring back the eyeliner and hair swoops of the early-aughts emo. "Emo," after all, was a descriptor that few ever really adopted for themselves. More often than not, it was a hater's epithet, much like "hipster" or "millennial." Besides, it’s hard to revive bands that are still going, even if forgotten. These are bands recognizable to a lot of us, but they were never famous enough (despite some runs on MTV2 and Fuse) even for a stint in today’s “pop purgatory.” Mostly, they’re just bands we know from some regrettable, awkward stage of life, who (perhaps surprisingly) continue to release new music.

Fall Out Boy, another one these "not true emo" bands, released a new music video in earlier this month with Courtney Love. (Ironic or not, if that isn’t a statement of cultural relevance, then nothing is.) The song, “Rat A Tat,” opens with tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “Are you ready for another bad poem?/One more off-key anthem? … /Remember me as I was not as I am.” FOB, at least, seems to understand what's going on here.

Taking Back Sunday seems less aware. “We don’t want to be a nostalgia act,” Adam Lazzara, the band's lead singer, told Newsday. "We still want to grow our band."

The only trouble is that Happiness Is is wholly unremarkable. It isn’t a good album, and it’s not a bad album; it’s just an album. All the songs blend together, and it sounds too much like generic radio rock than anything you'd listen to these days. It doesn't harken back to any sub-genre that's in need of resurrection, it's not going to spur a new movement. Simply, it's an album that makes you remember that you used to listen to Taking Back Sunday when you were fifteen.

These bands clearly still have audiences – a few stops on the TBS/The Used tour are even sold out – or else record labels (even independent ones) wouldn't put in the effort for a new album. But the attempt to "grow" a fan base seems futile now. The biggest headlines TBS has made lately was when it announced a few years back that it was reuniting its original line up. Maybe that tells you what you need to know. 

The penultimate song on Happiness Is is titled "We Were Younger Then." That about says it all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.