There's something particularly glamorous about examining the pop music made in 2006. Justin Timberlake was bringing sexy back. My Chemical Romance were challenging our notions of concept albums and high art, bringing Broadway to Hot Topic with The Black Parade. Paris Hilton became a musician. Rihanna navigated sadness, femininity and identity with A Girl Like Me, her second album after becoming an overnight success with "Pon De Replay." It was also a glory moment for emo and pop-punk as a whole: Blink-182 and Good Charlotte laid the ground work, setting up a generation of outcasts to be embraced by the mainstream.
All of those acts share a certain foundational accessibility that allowed them to succeed, perhaps thwarting them from getting weird in a cerebral way (everyone eventually experimented musically, on record.) Taking Back Sunday broke the mold in a new, lyrical fashion, perhaps never fully realizing the resonance intelligent song writing would have on future music makers. But it exists.
Let's back track. By 2006, Taking Back Sunday had been a band for 7 years, going through more line up changes and interpersonal drama than any one band should have to: Members left, family members were dated, the group found themselves with a revolving door policy, however intentional or not. It was dangerously inconsistent, but it made their records great. The same guys who were slitting their throats on 2002's Tell All You Friends weren't the ones under the influence on 2004's Where You Want To Be. One crucial moment of growth that happened in the two years between those records is that someone must've told frontman Adam Lazzara that he could write songs with a certain advanced lyricism (that wasn't really present in this emo world) and fans would still connect to it. People want to relate to emo music; they don't want to be challenged by it. In Taking Back Sunday, they were both.
This mentality culminated in their 2006 record Louder Now, and more specifically, the lead single "MakeDamnSure." The song is obtuse. It begins with Lazzara taking a sharp breath inward, launching into the superficially nonsensical lines of "You've got this new head filled up with smoke / I've got my veins all tangled close / To the jukebox bars you frequent / The safest place to hide."
He stops from getting too weird and finds clarity in an unhappy relationship: "A long night spent with your most obvious weakness / You start shaking at the thought you are everything I want / 'Cause you are everything I'm not." It's enough to draw the emo fans in, but also makes a point to focus lyricism on the concept of communication—in a really direct way. The chorus continues, "And we lay, we lay together just not / Too close, too close (How close is close enough?) / We lay, we lay together just not / Too close, too close / I just wanna break you down so badly / Well I trip over everything you say / I just wanna break you down so badly / In the worst way." It's filled with casual misogyny, pointed at some unnamed other, but done so with surprising delicacy, a way that often sounds feminine, reaching to the top of his wide vocal range. He sounds like he learned to sing from listening to women.
And still, the song continues in its unfair villainization of an unnamed object-interest but through the lens of self-critique. "My inarticulate store-bought hangover hobby kit / It talks, it says, 'You, oh, you are so cool,'" Lazzara swoons at a particularly memorable moment, aware of a night well-partied, one he's paying for now. In a lot of ways, Louder Now is about that feeling: existing in a space of self-doubt, confusion and potentially regret, but doing so with layers. Feeling bad never sounded so good.
The video for the song is just as strange and sort of asymmetrical. Where most bands of this caliber would opt for high production or a collection of live shots, TBS wanted a series of images to mirror each other, a space where humanity and destruction intersect in a natural way. For a song about love and loss, it's a surprising juxtaposition.
"MakeDamnSure" arrived near the tale end of the mainstream's investment in rock music: they could be a huge band, then, in a way that couldn't possibly translate in 2016: there's no Taking Back Sunday of now. But even in that space, they were able to find success in their uniqueness, crafting songs that reflect the turmoil they felt as a band and as humans in the world. They made emo smart, a legacy perhaps they never knew they'd have.
Check out this video of Adam Lazzara and John Nolan telling Fuse all about emo, porn, and giving advice to young bands, below.