Listen to This: Fall Out Boy offers highlights but mostly falters on ‘MANIA’
What disappoints me most about “MANIA” is that Fall Out Boy has pulled a Maroon 5 or a Coldplay: While they once had a unique sound they could call their own, their newest records have been soulless attempts at chasing top 40 success.
This isn’t to say “MANIA” doesn’t have any highlights. Some of the tracks are actually pretty good — one of them might be my favorite of 2018 so far. The good songs just all happen to be on the second half of the album, making the first half a slog of generic pop songs.
We’ll get to those good songs in a bit, but since Fall Out Boy front-loaded the record with crap, I have to do the same here.
The first handful of tracks on the record seem to be chasing a sound that peaked in popularity a few years ago. The album’s opener, “Young And Menace,” features a dubstep-style breakdown in the place of a chorus. Patrick Stump’s voice gets run through a vocal effect that makes him sound like a chipmunk, while a knock-off Skrillex wails away at industrial beats in the background.
Does the song sound good? Sure. But that’s not the problem with it. The problem is that it sounds like a song that anyone could write these days. It doesn’t have the punk rock energy of their early songs like “Dance Dance,” nor does it have the theatrics of songs like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” In other words, it doesn’t sound like Fall Out Boy. It just sounds like the radio.
This problem continues to plague the band throughout much of the first half of “MANIA,” but a problem that ends up being much more grating in the early tracks is the totally scatterbrained lyrics.
“MANIA” is fraught with vague odes to directionless youthful rebellion, and nowhere is that more obvious than on “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea.”
(As an aside, I’m glad to see that Fall Out Boy still occasionally keeps to the time-honored emo tradition of giving their songs ridiculously dumb names.)
As the track builds up to the chorus, Stump delivers a particular lyrical doozy:
“Are you smelling that s***?” He asks the listener. Then, in his best “sacre bleu” French accent, he proclaims the scent to be “Eau de résistance.”
But the song makes no other real reference to rebellion or anything of that nature. Stump’s proclamation is totally out of place, and his accent is so stereotypical, it’s far too easy to laugh at it.
Fall Out Boy’s lyrics continue to be nonsensical on the second half of the album, but the songs are of such a higher quality that it largely doesn’t matter.
For example, the chorus on “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” is one of the more unfocused moments on the album, as Stump switches rapidly among a few totally distinct points.
“I hope the roof flies off and I get blown into space; / I always make such expensive mistakes,” Stump croons. “I know it’s just a number but you’re the eighth wonder. / I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color.”
The lines dance around a theme of self-loathing and putting the listener on a pedestal, but they don’t exactly make the most deft of lyrical passages.
But the difference here is, unlike the first half of the album, the song is so well-written that it’s almost impossible not to chant along with the chorus, which swells to a climax when Stump’s voice soars into his upper register on the final word.
The standout track comes close to the end, though, with “Heaven’s Gate.” I’m pretty sure this song is the single best in Fall Out Boy’s catalog.
“Heaven’s Gate” is equal parts 1950s doo-wop and 1970s glam rock, and it’s gorgeous. Stump’s voice is earth-shattering on the chorus, in which he asks for a “boost over heaven’s gate.”
The imagery of Stump being boosted into heaven by the love of another is a powerful one, and emotion drips off Stump’s voice. It’s perhaps the strongest song I’ve heard so far this year (which is, admittedly, still very young).
But one or two amazing songs doesn’t make for an amazing album. Ultimately, we’re still left with a band who has abandoned the sound that made them famous, instead deciding to flounder around in sounds that feel unnatural for them.
When they strike gold, boy, is it gold. But it doesn’t happen often.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Artist: Fall Out Boy
Label: Island, DCD2
Best Tracks: ‘Heaven’s Gate,’ ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)’
Worst Tracks: ‘Young And Menace,” “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’