It’s hard to talk about emo music without Taking Back Sunday; if you came of age during the early 2000s, you’ve probably yelled to one of their songs at least once in your life. The Long Island emo band has been around for over fifteen years now, despite a surprising number of lineup changes in a relatively short amount of time.Taking Back Sunday recorded their debut album Tell All Your Friends after the departure of guitarist Jesse Lacey, who left to form Brand New.
Tell All Your Friends was a collaborative band effort, with the music written by the band together while guitarist John Nolan and lead singer Adam Lazzara wrote the lyrics as call-and-response-style vocals. The album is largely based on personal experiences (more on that later) and brought a heavier sound to emo with its tendency towards yelling. Themes range from adolescent ennui on album opener “You Know How I Do” to the heartbreak evident in “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” all threaded with frustration and a tinge of revenge that feels wholly suburban. Considering this, it’s easy to see how albums like Tell All Your Friends laid the groundwork for the popularity of emo pop a few years later. It’s hard not to think of Fall Out Boy’s and Panic! at the Disco’s early days when you hear the lyric, “Cause I could be your best bet/Let alone your worst ex” in “Bike Scene.”
The violent imagery throughout helps create the high stakes feeling of each track, despite the fairly normal nature of the subject matter at hand. Besides all of the mentions of guns in songs like “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” and “Timberwolves at New Jersey,” there’s even more explicit mentions of violence later in the album. “The truth is/You could slit my throat/And with my one last gasping breath/I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt,” Lazzara sings on breakup track “You’re So Last Summer.” The lyrics are extreme, but their effect is immediate: you understand the depth of the feelings expressed in a few words on just about any of the songs.
One of the main themes of the album is betrayal, portrayed from both sides. This is evident in “There’s No ‘I’ In Team,” probably the best known track off of this album for its subject matter alone. The song is a direct response to Brand New’s “Seventy Times 7,” which addressed the falling out between Jesse Lacey and John Nolan. The song is dire and serious, making statements like, “All I did was what I had to/Don’t believe me when I tell you/It’s just what anyone would do.” The lyrics are downright theatrical considering this is actually because John Nolan made out with Jesse Lacey’s girlfriend at a party, but keep with the highly emotional responses on the album. This track alone would make this album stand out; after all, it’s part of an infamous feud that both bands are still being asked about over a decade later, despite the people involved having reconciled years ago.
Tell All Your Friends is a very consistent album; even with songs that open on a different tone with unexpectedly lighter instruments (speaking specifically about the strings on “Great Romances of the 20th Century” and the piano on “The Blue Channel”) all end up featuring heavy guitar riffs and call-and-response vocals between Lazzara and Nolan. All of the songs feel like they are of a piece and telling the same story, which is certainly an accomplishment.
Over the years, Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends has been celebrated for its cathartic expression of emotion. Even though the album is ridiculously dramatic at times, the way it captures the messy emotions involved in growing up and interpersonal relationships makes it an album that can stand the test of time, even as fans grow older–even fifteen years later. Plus, let’s be real: the dramatics are half the fun.