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23rd Jan 2018

Fall Out Boy’s new album lacks growth but excels in giving the fans exactly what they want

REVIEW: Fall Out Boy - M A N I A

Will Lavin

Last of a dying breed?

You’ve got to love Fall Out Boy. Consistently delivering pop rock fever pitch with every single release, they always give their dedicated fan base exactly what they want.

In doing so they might not break through any glass ceilings as far as creative growth goes, but their “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is precisely why they’re still doing what they do 17 years on.

My first introduction to Fall Out Boy was through an ex-girlfriend. She was a big fan – although I’m pretty sure she was a bigger fan of Pete Wentz than the band itself. I was struck by their ability to make often deep and meaningful content sound so accessible – Infinity on High is still my favourite album of theirs. They were new-wave rockers flying the flag for a newly coined genre many were calling emo, and they did it with a sense of pride.

The way in which they paired everyday struggles and teenage strife with loud and colourful sonics whilst being successful was like a magic trick you weren’t able to figure out. They somehow perfected the art of contradicting parallels in musical form – it was a thing of beauty.

And they continue to do it today. M A N I A is the perfect example of this.

The cohesiveness of previous projects might not be all the way there, but there’s an underlining theme that shapes this new album. It feels like a visit to a shrink. It feels like the Pete Wentz – the band’s main songwriter – had a lot to get off of his chest, and, like me, he believes music is therapy.

Self-belief is a big part of M A N I A’s DNA. Listen to “Champion”. A pick-me-up song that rides the wave of the emotional narrative peppered throughout, one minute you’re face down on the mat and the countdown to 10 has begun, and the next, you’re choosing whether or not to get up and fight.

There’s more to life than fighting fires and if you can conquer self-doubt and climb the mountains of shit that life throws at you, things can be better, less deflating. That’s one strand of M A N I A.

Then there’s the down side of an inquiring mind caught in a creative’s body who keeps sabotaging his love life. “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” is a riot. It’s a three-dimensional look at the inner workings of a conflicted individual. It’s super relatable on so many levels.

Starting off claiming he can solve his and his partner’s problems with a series of words, Pete (well, Patrick, being that he’s the one singing the song), then proceeds to get drunk and forget what it was he was going to say in the first place. It’s at this point he spirals into an abyss of self-pity and decides he’s going to run away from everyone, including his fans.

The funny thing is, for a track with such a dark undertone the instrumental is almost triumphant. It has a certain zest to it that would work well playing background to a generic pop record. But again, it’s that interesting dynamic Fall Out Boy always offer. And the stand out lyric: “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker colour.” What a fantastic line.

One track that does need to be acknowledged, a track I really can’t fail to mention, is “Bishops Knife Trick”. Probably the most accomplished moment on M A N I A, it’s essentially syncopated rock music. While the instrumentation is glorious and vibrant in texture, Patrick’s vocals are both warm and intimately dangerous, they play like an instrument. They prove to be much more than just some harmonies floating through a mic chord. Much like a murder mystery, it’s deserving of multiple spins in order to figure it out. In fact, it’s the fun kind of homicide investigation, like Cluedo.

Where M A N I A falls short is when it tries to do something a little too far a field. Take “Heaven’s Gate” as an example. Attempting to extend their artistic range, it feels like a cheap Righteous Brothers song. Slowing the tempo down – which isn’t a bad thing – and channeling an almost Doo-wop vibe you’d expect something a little more polished from Fall Out Boy. Rough around the edges is cool for the loud and brash pounding rock anthems, but for something like this, it just lacks finesse.

Then there’s the choice of lead single. “Hold Me Tight Or Don’t” could so easily have been written for Shakira (when she was singing in English). It’s a mariachi musical experiment gone wrong. The video even panders to this observation, it could have been lifted straight from the intro scene of the James Bond movie, Spectre.

There was even some confusion over the album’s correct tracklisting. According to Pete via Twitter, the iTunes version is incorrectly sequenced. And being I’m a huge fan of the order in which tracks are played on an album, this potentially could have affected the way in which I’ve digested it, but hopefully not by too much.

Regardless, these are all minor details in the grand scheme of things. M A N I A does what Fall Out Boy fans expect. It’s passionate, it’s melodic, it’s racy in parts, it’s honest, it has a deeply intrinsic narrative, and it’s fun. There’s no growth, that’s for sure, but who needs growth when you’re catering to the true fans who have been there since day one and not the fair-weathered ones?

Fall Out Boy’s M A N I A is out now via Island Records.