Album name: Save Rock and Roll
Artist name: Fall Out Boy
Released: April 16, 2013
ZME Rating: 8/10
Fall Out Boy have had an odd transition in the last decade. They went cult act to left-field success story when “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and “Dance, Dance” blew up on MTV propelling 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree to sell three million copies. When Infinity on High dropped less than two years later, it debuted at number one on Billboard and suddenly they were playing arenas.
The record reflected it. It strayed from the pop-punk they had perfected. There were orchestrations, synths, overproduction and a piano ballad. It was a pop-punk band that wanted to make a Statement. They then followed this with Folie à Deux just a year and a half later. It was more scattershot than Infinity, despite being a regression sonically, with the band sounding unsure whether to further progress or return to their roots. They wanted it both ways. The next year, the band announced an indefinite hiatus.
Then came the solo ventures. Joe Trohan and Andy Hurley formed the hardrock supergroup The Damned Things. Hurley also dabbled in hardcore punk. Pete Wentz tried his hand at avant-garde electronica with Black Cards. And Patrick Stump decided he wanted to a synth-pop star. He released two EPs and a solo record, Soul Punk. None of these were well-received critically or commercially.
This brings us to Fall Out Boy’s comeback record, Save Rock and Roll. OK, first things first: Nothing about this record will do anything of the sort. There are few, if any, rock leanings on this record. In fact, the album is essentially Soul Punk 2. Synths and programmed drums drive every composition here, not guitar chords. Save Rock is a pop record through and through.
Make no mistake, though: FOB were always a pop band; the difference is, before they wrote punk songs with a (brilliant) pop sensibility. As a result, they accidentally discovered success. Here, they started with pop and threw out the punk part. In essence, they’re cutting out the detours to mainstream success with EDM-infused schlock. But it’s really great schlock. Stump’s songwriting is as strong as it’s ever been. The sexy strut of “Just One Yesterday,” the tumbling descent of the oh’s in “The Mighty Fall,” the shout-for-the-sky chorus of “The Phoenix” – it’s all here in spades. Every track has at least two hooks that will stick in your head after a single listen. That’s the problem, though. Their previous records had an earnestness of which Save Rock is completely devoid.
So we have a seeming cognitive dissonance of “we’re a rock band who want rock’s return” paired with “we made a Top 40 EDM record called Save Rock and Roll.” It’s this mindset that probably explains the guest list: Big Sean, Courtney Love, Foxes and Elton John. It’s as schizophrenic as it is nonsensical. Big Sean’s verse on “Fall” is as sophomoric as it is out of place, including the utter throwaway line “I’m either fuckin’ or workin’ so I’m the grind don’t stop.” Courtney Love doesn’t so much sing as semi-coherently rant through “Rat a Tat.” “Yesterday,” conversely finds a nice harmony between Foxes and Stump. Then there’s the legend, pulling up the rear on the title track. John is the only indication on the entire record suggesting FOB still want to make rock music.
Which makes Save Rock and Roll such a bizarre listen. Ultimately, the album alternates between ear candy and endless frustration. It’s a great pop record in terms of composition and execution, but it’s also disingenuous posturing. “Put on your war paint,” commands Stump at the record’s open as some sort of call to arms for (rock) fans. “Here comes this rising tide,” he observes in the first verse before asserting in the chorus that he’ll change rock like a remix and raise it like a phoenix. Yeah, that’d be great if Fall Out Boy kept in mind that you need the guitar in order to save rock and roll.