Following a lackluster response to 2008’s Folie a Deux, Fall Out Boy seemed destined to fade away until vocalist Patrick Stump burned the band out instead. Disbanding stopped Fall Out Boy’s slow bleed to obscurity, but it also gambled its members’ careers. Pete Wentz, FOB’s bassist and all-around emo Renaissance man, faced fatherhood. Guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andrew Hurley went heavy metal with super-group The Damned Things. Vocalist Patrick Stump released a solo record, 2011’s Soul Punk, which, in a society that allows Justin Timberlake to cavort on NBC dressed as a Bee Gee, really deserved to do a lot better than it did. But fans were angry with the earnest frontman and for good reason: he broke up their favorite band.
Enter Save Rock and Roll, FOB’s triumphant return that really has nothing to do with rock and roll aside from a manifesto as self-congratulatory as “Damn Yankees” by Damn Yankees.
FOB are “The Phoenix”, a meaningful reference for anyone who made it through the fifth Harry Potter book. This band knows that you can’t save rock ‘n’ roll without an army, so why not recruit Dumbledore’s? Especially for a comeback, the numbers are impressive: Save Rock and Roll debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 154,000 copies in its first week.
Stump growls “I’m on fire!” on “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)”, the muscular first single ready for stadium pyrotechnics. The harmonies are taut as sailor’s knots and producer Butch Walker keeps the band sounding Top 40 fresh, save on “Just One Yesterday” where Stump rolls in Adele’s 2011 and on the Skrillex-lite “Death Valley”, which is thirsty for guitars.
The band that came the closest to filling FOB’s void was .fun, which wasn’t lost on the emo-pop vets. Singer Nate Ruess’ sincerity and youth anthems fuel Save Rock And Roll, most obviously the sweeping “Young Volcanoes” (“We are wild / We’ve already won”), which even features the clapping and campfire percussion .fun borrowed from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”.
The actual fun is found in the unlikely rap interludes by Big Sean and Courtney Love. On “The Mighty Fall”, Big Sean offers a pre-emptive “oh god…” to Stump’s spitfire flamboyance. Don’t miss the swipe at FOB’s former contemporary, Simple Plan: “I’m a dick, girl, I’m addicted to you.” “Rat-A-Tat”’s spoken-word stylings from Love are a cross between Perez Hilton and Patti Smith (“It’s Courtney, bitch!”). Here, Stump’s timing is perfecting: “Are you ready for another bad poem?”. Slow-whoop choruses and something about Saint Peter give it a fantastic sugar-we’re-going-down rush. Plus, it’s the best song Love’s been on in years. She’s not playing an instrument or singing, but maybe that makes more sense for her these days.
It’s unclear whether Fall Out Boy actually think they can save rock and roll, or if their tongues are planted in their cheek. Confounding this is a piano ballad featuring Elton John that’s reminiscent of his 1991 rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” with George Michael. Michael couldn’t hold a candle in the wind to Stump’s voice, which probably only makes the angry rock purists angrier. “I cried tears you’ll never see,” Stump intones before casting forth a middle finger (“So fuck you, you can go cry me an ocean/ And leave me be”). Fleeting meltdowns like this punctuate Stump’s performances all the time. He may have the scope of a soul singer, but he also has the knee-jerk hysteria of a punk: a duality given special context in the presence of Elton John.
Like Stump, John has always been something of a rock n’ roll square. Melody, melodrama and the piano were no more hip in ’70s rock than they were in ’00s rock. As a result, both singers are continually sidelined into genres like easy listening or emo, so this duet is an especially galvanizing treat. If this is what rock and roll sounds like today, let the dogs of society howl.
Essential Tracks: “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)”, “Rat-a-Tat”, and “The Might Fall”