How stupid do Fall Out Boy think their fans are? Granted, the way that so many of them carry themselves doesn’t produce a particularly convincing counter-argument, but the point still stands. After all, this is a band who still expected to be treated as a rock band, and yet have shown next to no interest in the genre over the last few years, and who would rather latch onto fleeting trends to capitalise on quick fads and memes than anything substantial. The icing on the cake comes with M A N I A, the album due to be released last September but was pushed back to now due to “more work being needed”, and certainly not because both its first singles ultimately failed to make any sort of mainstream dent. Still, more work might’ve been a decent option, particularly when the lead single was Young And Menace, a dysmorphic trainwreck of a song shooting for some kind of mainstream favour by stripping away anything even remotely resembling a band for heavy, cluttered dubstep drops that feel too long and too awkward.
And yet, despite being the most extreme example on the album, it’s actually a decent summary of M A N I A as a whole, the work of a band who could get away with murder at this point attempting to make a pivot towards mainstream pop and flaming out spectacularly. But even then, M A N I A isn’t even the incredible calamity that so many thought it would be, just another diminishing return from a band whose concept of artistic integrity seems to be waning day by day. And before the inevitable backlash, this isn’t bad simply because it’s a poppier album; it’s bad because a) Fall Out Boy are not playing to their strengths or even anything close to that here, and b) it’s not as if any of this is coming from a place of real intent, rather the desire to copy whatever’s charting and reap the benefits that way. And it’s so easy to tell, too – Champion and Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) may return to the percussive pop well that Fall Out Boy have drank from in the past (hell, the former might as well be Centuries Pt. 2), but with the decidedly Latin thrum of Hold Me Tight Or Don’t, or the utterly horrendous trap / dancehall mashup of the Burna Boy collaboration Sunshine Riptide, Fall Out Boy’s dip into the mainstream world yields a hefty dose of cynicism surrounding whether or not this is a solely artistic decision.
It’s not all bad though as, whether through some fluke or not, M A N I A will occasionally hit a spot where it does feel like something is connecting. The darker bass grind and heavier, edgier propulsion of Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea actually strays into the territory of – gasp! – a rock band, and even for how slick and glistening it is, there’s a tightness to The Last Of The Real Ones that’s genuinely likable. What’s most surprising of all though, is how much individual band members stand out here; considering how crushed and homogenised Fall Out Boy albums have been recently, it’s honestly wonderful to see Andy Hurley promoted from setpiece to drummer again, and even if there’s still not a lot of room for Joe Trohman’s guitar work to fully do its job, its influence can be felt to a greater degree here, and it keeps tracks like Bishops Knife Trick from being totally forgettable. But easily M A N I A‘s strongest suit is Patrick Stump, who’s finally allowed to belt in a way that Fall Out Boy have been starved of for far too long, and coupled with the crunching beat and gospel swell of Church and the doo-wop of Heaven’s Gate, it’s the most natural and sizable his enormous, soulful wail has sounded in some time.
Which brings up the million dollar question – if Fall Out Boy can actually cultivate their pop leanings into something with actual quality behind it, why don’t they do it more often? For as good as M A N I A‘s best moments are, the mediocre fluff ends up overpowering them, and the whole album suffers greatly as a result. It’s not even as if it’s hard to isolate where Fall Out Boy go right, and yet throwing that aside in favour of pulling out lazy, lacklustre pop tracks couldn’t be more counterintuitive. And honestly, the best way to describe M A N I A is lazy, refusing to go the extra mile that could potential tip it over the edge for what is at least a decent album. Instead, it’s made up of pop tones that do justice for no one involved, production that refuses to admit that it’s for a band with actual musicians in it, and lyrics in which the main lines would be considered throwaway on any other Fall Out Boy album. Young And Menace might be the easiest target, but going through Sunshine Riptide, Champion, Bishops Knife Fight and a frankly distressing number of others, it becomes more obvious than even that Fall Out Boy have less and less interest in making lasting music, and are perfectly comfortable with hopping between trends.
What’s even worse is that they’ll get away with it as well. Theirs is a fanbase that will refuse to view this album objectively and instead throw out how “they can’t stay the same forever” and how “artists need to grow”. Except this isn’t artistic growth. Artistic growth is finding something that works, sticking with it and building on it until it’s honed to the greatest extent it can be; Fall Out Boy might seem like they’re doing that on the surface, but they’re never building on or sticking with the sounds they’re picking up. You can guarantee that their next album will sound nothing like this one because pop trends will undoubtedly have changed in a year or two’s time, ripe and ready for Fall Out Boy to latch onto before they can leave the carcass alone when the next one comes along. That’s how M A N I A was formed, and because it’s just blindly accepted by their fanbase, they know they can do it with no consequence. Expect more from Fall Out Boy – you might just get better albums than this.
For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, Panic! At The Disco, Hoodie Allen
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘M A N I A’ by Fall Out Boy is out now on Island Records / DCD2.