If hip-hop is the CNN of the streets, then emo is the Instant Messenger of the suburbs. Taking Back Sunday won a passionate fanbase by understanding this better than most of their overwrought peers. The band’s debut, 2002’s Tell All Your Friends, was like a teenage walkie-talkie passed between screamers/songwriters Adam Lazzara and John Nolan, burbling with tons of he said/she said chitchat. But after some totally emo intramural hanky-panky, Nolan and original bassist Shaun Cooper bailed on both the band and the friendship. TBS quickly incorporated another shouty Long Island dude with glasses (Fred Mascherino) and took on a whole album’s worth of angst and betrayal. (For Nolan’s side of the story, look for his debut as Straylight Run coming this fall, also on the WB, er, Victory.)
Nearly every song on Where You Want to Be begins in the moment just before a fight or a tear-filled breakdown. On wide-open wailers like “New American Classic” and “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know),” Lazzara uses anthemic choruses like 15-year-olds use emoticons: as sweeping shorthand placeholders for feelings too complicated to puzzle out and express. Simplistic sing-alongs like “I know you didn’t mean it” play well on the Warped Tour, when the mic is mostly in the crowd anyway, but they bland out pretty quickly on record. The words of Lazzara’s exes (girlfriends and bandmates) don’t just ring in his ears–he quotes them wholesale: “I’m here and I heard you: ‘Anyone will do tonight.'”
On the better songs, these fragments, combined with Mascherino’s howling punctuation and the band’s schizoid musicianship, blur into a satisfying whole. On the deep cuts, TBS flirts with stylistic and emotional growth (strings, words that are more reflective than vindictive), but their bread and butter is still exuberantly juvenile pessimism: “A Decade Under the Influence” and “One-Eightyby Summer” burst and bloom as Lazzara ponders the ever-shrinking ETA between kiss and kiss-off. It’s powerful stuff and no sophomore slump. But what happens after graduation? Friends forever, right?Right?