How many times must we hear an increasingly irrelevant rock band describe an upcoming release as “gritter” and “heavier” and “more in touch with our roots”, only to receive a record that’s, well, just like their last mediocre effort but with more minor chords? Too often, it seems. Especially lately. So when Fall Out Boy revealed they’d recorded an EP of “punk rock” songs with Ryan Adams at the helm, you’d be forgiven for expecting another batch of overly polished pop nuggets.
Thankfully, the eight rapid-fire tracks on Pax Am Days are more than that. Much more. When discussing the EP’s influences, bassist Pete Wentz cites hardcore acts like Earth Crisis and Damnation A.D in the same breath as the Descendants and Gorilla Biscuits. He’s not blowing smoke. Sure, nothing on Pax Am Days comes close to evoking the apocalyptic intensity of Damnation and Karl Buechner’s scorched wail would make mincemeat of Stump’s golden voice, but tracks like “American Made” and “Eternal Summer” are fit to underscore the most savage of circle pits. Hell, “Love, Sex, Death” could’ve been ripped off the latest LP from hardcore supergroup OFF!.
Adams is as clearly infatuated with hardcore punk as the boys are, his production emphasizing the ragged edges–chugging progressions, sloppy power chords, and pummeling drums–over Stump’s vocals and Wentz’s lyrics, the focus of most Fall Out Boy songs. The only exception is “Hot to the Touch, Cold on the Inside”, which packages the kind of radio-friendly chant you’d find on this year’s Save Rock and Roll with cacophonic bouts of talk-shouting; it runs 1:25 and it’s probably Stump’s most indelible performance on the record.
That said, Stump’s voice and Fall Out Boy’s sensibilities ultimately aren’t meant for this kind of throaty, aggressive sound. The catchy hooks, good as they are, continually bubble up in songs like “Caffeine Cold”, serving as a reminder that, at their core, Fall Out Boy is a pop band. “We are hardcore kids that couldn’t quite cut it as hardcore kids,” Wentz told The Independent in 2006. Maybe so, but Pax Am Days is about the best damn facsimile they could’ve made.
Essential Tracks: “American Made”, “Eternal Summer”