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Back in 2007, Fall Out Boy released a music video for ‘The Take’s Over, The Break’s Over’. In this it-was-all-a-dream-in-the-end film clip, you get this rather silly, heavy-handed scene where the band’s dog informs a mob of angry fans that it’s okay that people change, that we should respect and accept said changes, and that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is merely a decent film and it’s fine to not love it to utter death like most of that franchises utterly sycophantic fanbase does. (Okay, that last bit isn’t actually in the original video, that was all me).
Anywho, I find that this fictional final scene in a music video from ten years ago says a lot about where the band would go next and where they inevitably went; almost them trying to ask fans to respect them as they stopped making the kind of music their core supporters loved. Because it was only after 2007’s killer ‘Infinity On High’ (definitely not the most important FOB album, but easily their best one along with their 2003 debut LP) and 2008’s merely decent ‘Folie à deux’ that, for better and most certainly for worse, Fall Out Boy changed. And greatly so as they suddenly shifted their sound away from their loved, successful mainstream rock sound as we all sadly heard with 2013’s abysmal ‘Save Rock And Roll’ in which their sound became this poppy but lifeless, artificial and electronica-heavy style. One that barely displayed the now withering husk of the much-lauded alternative/pop-rock approach of their past works. (Yes yes, I know that we all miss the first three records’ sound, let’s just move on).
That stylistic shift from rock over to full pop and electronica, in of itself, is a totally fine idea; one that countless bands have undertaken before, countless more will do over time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. I mean, Health’s glorious 2015 LP, ‘Death Magic’, is one of my all-time favourite records and there’s not one goddamn real instrument heard on that incredible beast of an album. Yet the real issue with Patrick Stump and co. at that point in time of their career’s massive sonic transition was that the good songs just weren’t there. Granted, the follow-up release – 2015’s ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ – kept their current pop/electro flavour intact but had some decent songs to back it up such as ‘Jet Pack Blues’, ‘Twin Skeleton’s’ and ‘Fourth of July’.
This is also the case with the band’s seventh album, ‘Mania‘, a record that I’m very surprised to have ended up enjoying more than I ever thought I would. And while that’s not saying too much, still, I can guarantee that this record is actually better than you originally thought it was.
Of course, ‘Mania‘ does continue the group’s trend of spewing out soulless, indifferent songs to be merely lapped up by radio stations, sports replay moments, the odd T.V. advertisement or two, and score them and their label a few more movie sync deals. Singles like ‘HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T’ and its insufferable chorus, this album’s ring-in for the once omnipresent single ‘Centuries‘ – second song, ‘Champion’ – as well as the cliche, fuck-boy Cali-pop sound of ‘Sunshine Riptide‘ seem to have only been bred for such shallow, cynical purposes.
On the flipside, though, this record also has some of the band’s most ambitious compositions and most memorable choruses in recent memory. Notably heard in the form of ‘The Last Of The Real Ones’, the low-key, bluesy and gospel-tinged ‘Heaven’s Gate‘, the lyrically ominous and distorted, industrial sounds that pervades the short but sweet and oddly titled ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’, the ear-worming refrain of the borderline rock-sounding ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)‘ (which is how many people will no doubt come to describe this new record), the dark and moody but hooky closer that is the Aliens referencing ‘Bishops Knife Trick’ and the sublime anthemic standout, ‘Church’. It’s these solid tracks, along with the instrumentally schizophrenic opener ‘Young And Menace’ that prove that – despite the skeleton of the older and far better Fall Out Boy being barely present anymore – this era of FOB can indeed create some diamonds among the head-shaking, alienating rough.
Now, in terms of production and songwriting, this is easily the poppiest but also the densest sound we’ve ever heard from Fall Out Boy, as well as one of their darkest sounding works too, factors that help save this album from the depths of being pure shite. Whether it be chaotic layers of instrumentation all competing for attention on certain songs; a decent mixture of styles throughout; genuinely dynamic sections that maintain interest; strong use of synth pads, trap hi-hats, hi-fi synths, electronic drum beats mixing with Andy Hurley’s tight acoustic kit playing; the subtle guitar riffs, basic guitar chord-progressions and overly affected guitar melodies from Stump and Joe Trohmam; the washes of samples used as well as tightly chopped-up vocals with plenty of pitched edits – it’s all very slick and well-polished. Sure, it’ll still bother the “true” rock fans out there, mind you. (However, regarding that last part about the vocals, most of these vocal modulations do detract from just how terrific of a singer Stump is, which is a real shame. And if you’ve seen that performance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, then you’ll know this can all sound like a bloody mess live).
After all, ‘Mania‘ is a product of the very people who all produced it. Which if you don’t know, was a joint effort from mixer Jesse Shatkin (Sia, Kelly Clarkson, One Direction), producer/songwriter Illangelo (The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, Drake), Mr Pharrell “Happy” Williams, Jonny Coffer (Beyonce, Weezer), long-returning collaborator Butch Walker (FOB’s own ‘You’re Crashing, But You’re No Wave‘, Marvelous 3, SouthGang) and even film composer Dave Sardy (Bright, Zombieland, 21, among others). And I think that that liner note list of whose hands went into this album’s creation says it all. And look, again, if you utterly loathe this current era of FOB, then please save your time, energy and internet bandwidth and look elsewhere for your musical satisfaction because this thing will just depress you even further.
Which then leads me to the end of this here review: ‘Mania’ does have its solid moments that really stick with you, a few eye-rolling lows that you’ll forget in no time flat, and at other times, will just leave you completely ambivalent to what it’s doing. But hey, give it a fair chance because at least’s it’s not ‘Save Rock And Roll’. Which, really, should’ve been called ‘Kill Rock And Roll’ for all of the fucking good it did.
When it comes to 2000’s alternative/rock/emo staple bands that evolved and adapted to newer mainstream music trends, Panic! At The Disco are still the one band who did it the best of the lot. That undoubted, undisputable fact in mind, this newest Fall Out Boy record is indeed more ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ and is far less ‘Save Rock And Roll’, which is really, the best outcome we could’ve all hoped for. Because at the end of the day, we will never hear the old Fall Out Boy on-record ever again and you should’ve made your peace with that long ago. That being said, ‘Mania’ is fine. It’s decent, it’s passable, and you could do so much worse. Hell, this very record could’ve been a lot worse.
Young and Menace
Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea
HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T
The Last of the Real Ones
Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)
Bishops Knife Trick
‘Mania’ is out January 19th. Read our Fall Out Boy discography discussion piece here and suss out the dates for the band’s 2018 Australian tour here. Also, as for those who have said this track listing is wrong, there are two versions of the album’s track order and this was one the label sent me. Also also, it doesn’t fucking matter either way in this case, cheers.