Published Jan 17, 2019Taking Back Sunday were always a fan's band, a pivotal part of Long Island's turn-of-the-millennium punk scene who mostly confused critics. I write this not as an insult but as one of those fans. Their music fostered a uniquely slavish devotion from those that loved them, their lyrics ripe for social media fodder, even before such a thing existed.
With the broader influence of emo — a genre to which they were only tangentially related — at an all-time high, the time has certainly come for a critical re-evaluation for the band and their peers (not to mention the sometimes dubious gender politics at the heart of many of these bands' lyrics).
Unfortunately, Twenty, a new collection of tracks spanning the group's seven albums plus two new tracks, isn't about to kick off any sort of historical revision. Aside from being an anachronism in the era of streaming and limitless playlists, in digging through the 21-song, chronologically sequenced tracklist, the question of who this record is for comes up again and again. In cherry-picking three songs each from their explosive debut, Tell All Your Friends, and 2016's Tidal Wave, a record many old school fans probably don't even know exists, what are Taking Back Sunday trying to say to fans old and new?
Sure, what band doesn't think that their latest effort isn't as good — if not better — than their first? But that rarely correlates with the lens through which fans view their career — you can appreciate the new even while remaining firmly entrenched in your belief that their best years were the ones that originally brought you into the fold.
Maybe that's the point: proving that Taking Back Sunday are more than the post-hardcore/emo hybrid into which the band have been pigeonholed. Longtime fans are unlikely to uncover any revelations about the band (and most will certainly take issue with the songs that were excluded) while new listeners are getting a skewed version of their career arc.
This is certainly a band greater than the sum of their influences, but there's a tension to their best years — to my ears, their first four records, whose tracks make up just under half of this collection's selections — that is lacking in the sky-scraping arena rock of 2011's Taking Back Sunday (two songs featured here) or the Against Me!/Gaslight Anthem heartland-punk of Tidal Wave. The two new tracks are perfectly serviceable additions, but no more memorable than anything off those last few records.
Most critically, though, is a severe lack of an editorial hand at work here. "These are the two or three most popular songs from each of our records," seems to have been the guiding principle, deep cut fan faves, covers or other rarities be damned.
Twenty and an accompanying tour coincide with the band's 20th anniversary, a long life for any artist, let alone one that's flew under the radar of hip tastemakers for most of their career, but this compilation feels totally unnecessary and impersonal, neither satisfying for old fans nor will it convince new ones of the band's greater legacy. They deserve better. (Concord)