Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #63. “You Won’t Ever Get Too Far From Me…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 1, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

I never expected Taking Back Sunday to be nearly so intense. It was their name, most likely–its weak combination of affirmation and nostalgia led me to associate with emotionally wafer-thin pop-punk bands like New Found Glory and Saves the Day, bands that were nominally emo but seemed to lack the courage of their convictions. The first time I heard “A Decade Under the Influence,” it bowled me over. Not just because it was a marvel of intelligent modern rock songwriting–cleverly named after a documentary about 70s filmmaking and sung almost in a round between two vocalists as a conscious/subconscious juxtaposition–but because it held so little back, crescendoing in urgency for virtually the whole song, and ending with vocalists Adam Lazzara and Fred Mascherino yelling in a throaty howl. They were the first band of their era I heard on the radio that sounded like a band my brother–a metal fan at heart, and a temporary screamo afficianado–might have contemplated listening to. It felt long overdue.

It was this intensity–not just in terms of volume, though they certainly had that (their 2006 album was appropriately entitled Louder Now), but just that willingness to go the extra mile emotionally, with their playing or the singing or the lyrical content–that always made even the weaker TBS singles stand out from the pack. The peak of this was undoubtedly ’06’s “MakeDamnSure,” the biggest stomach punch of a single that the band ever released. Remarkably, it was also the closest that Taking Back Sunday ever came to a legitimate pop breakthrough, with a #48 peak on the pop charts and a video that received heavy MTV play. It was certainly heavy stuff (on multiple levels) for a crossover hit, but that’s just how undeniable TBS were when they were on the top of their game–so much so that they could write a song as piercing, unsettling, and thematically and morally ambiguous as this, and sell it to the TRL kids alongside Fall Out Boy and All-American Rejects videos.

“MakeDamnSure” begins with the sound of Lazzara taking a deep breath–an introduction that may or may not have thematic relevance to the song, but which I always viewed as just a brilliant conceit to mentally prep listeners for the song, to let them know that what was to come would take such a force out of him that he needed to stock up on oxygen while he could. The verses are relatively low-key but unmistakably ominous, with purposefully disquieting lyrics like “You are everything I want / Because you’re everything I’m not,” “I’ve got my veins all tangled close” and “You hollow out my hungry eyes”–lyrics not implicitly violent, but which are designed to put listeners on edge. Shrouded mildly in half-transparent metaphor, the verses aren’t exactly poetry, but they’re not nearly as cringe-worthy as most of their emo brethren’s, and most importantly, they don’t give the game away too early.

Because eventually, the chorus hits. And when it hits, subtlety and metaphor go out the window, in favor of Lazzara and Mascherino just going from the gut: “I JUST WANNA BRING YOU DOWN SO BADLY!!! / (WELL I TRIP OVER EVERYTHING YOU SAY!!!) / I JUST WANNA BRING YOU DOWN SO BADLY!!! / (IN THE WORST! WAY!!!!!)” It’s the kind of chorus where if you’re even the slightest bit jaded as a modern rock listener, it’ll elicit an eyeroll so pronounced that it’ll actually irritate your optical nerves–as it likely did with my film/music critic roommate my junior year at NYU, who never expressed a greater disbelief in my taste in music as he did after I blasted “MakeDamnSure” from my computer speakers. But if you like a good vocal catharsis (as well as one soundtracked by a bed of crushing percussion and raining trembling guitar) and can respect a willingness to put one on record without any matter of self-conscious worry about how how ridiculous it might sound, then you’ll find no better from the Naughty Oughties than this one. It’s one of the few songs I generally won’t even attempt on vocals in Rock Band, because I know there’s no way I’ll do it any sort of justice.

No one seems to be really sure what “MakeDamnSure” is about, no pun intended. As I so often do before writing these articles, I turned to the whiz kids over at Songfacts.com for their unique brand of insight, but I got about a half-dozen equally represented and equally plausible interpretations of the song’s intentions, ranging from being a sweet song about a nervous boy unable to tell his girl(space)friend about his real feelings, to being about an obsessed stalker preparing to rape the unknowing object of his affections. I don’t think it’s quite as maniacal as the latter, and I certainly don’t think it’s as innocent as the former–I would tend to agree with the most frequently-proffered explanation, that it’s about an about-to-boil-over anger over a guy’s unrequited lust for a girl, who either is dating him and won’t sleep with him or simply isn’t interested in him the same way at all. Really, though, it doesn’t matter that much–the intensity of the chorus is as such that it’s simply relatable on its own terms, as just the sound of the feelings of resentment and frustration that well inside you when you want to make someone think or act a certain way, and they won’t. Simple enough, no?

Over the rest of the decade, Taking Back Sunday subtly became one of modern rock’s best singles bands. Though consistently popular and with a no-doubt devoted cult, I still felt like they never really got the credit they deserved, either on the charts or in the mainstream critical media. Maybe it’s because despite the peer group they became associated with, they were really more of an underground band at heart–an indie punk band miscast as emo darlings due to time and circumstance. Really, the career they had should’ve been closer to that of Brand New, the simimlarly excellent band started by ex-TBSer Jesse Lcaey, which only had one or two songs scrape the modern rock charts, and never had any sort of mainstream Q factor. As is, TBS were probably too raw for longterm pop success, and too popular for indie credibility.

It’s not too late to embrace Taking Back Sunday, though, my friends. Their new album’s pretty good.

The List So Far:

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)”
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz”
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone”
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!”
67. Incubus – “Stellar”
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard”
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure”

8 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #63. “You Won’t Ever Get Too Far From Me…””

  1. Garret said

    \m/

  2. Brent said

    The comparison to Brand New is pretty apt, although I’d say that TBS are to them what high school is to university if that makes any sense.

  3. Jonathan said

    Great stuff, Unterberger.

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