Fall Out Boy’s ‘Save Rock And Roll’: Album Review

cstutz | April 16, 2013 5:40 am
There’s irony in the title of Fall Out Boy‘s new album, Save Rock And Roll (out today, ), in that it’s the band’s least “rock and roll” album yet. Modern hopped-up pop production flows through the album’s veins, and rock feels like more of an idea than anything specific, while only bones are left of the pure pop-punk that defined the group’s sound and vice versa.

Indeed, such a title demands attention. It’s so brazen, there’s a skeptical gut “yeah right” scoff that comes with it, and one feels an embarrassed reluctance to even think of it too much. But rather than the cocksure assertion, “With this, Fall Out Boy will save rock and roll,” there’s relief in the Elton John-featuring song of the same title. It’s the album’s final track, wherein singer Patrick Stump describes a life almost tragically dedicated to the idea of saving the idea of rock and roll. It feels self-aware in that this is a desperate way to live — “We don’t know when to quit,” he sings — though he commits himself to it nevertheless.

Such a purpose may seem trivial in the face of the world’s depth, and may mean a life of discontent at that, but in the song it feels like a fuel, as well. It’s a fine message for a comeback album to pivot on, though it’s unfortunate to wait 40 minutes to understand this hinge. Because all along, one’s thinking to themselves, “This is supposed to save rock and roll?” With its genre bending and production style, it simply doesn’t. Whatever that means, anyway.

What it does do is bring Fall Out Boy back to the pop music scene after a five-year hiatus that led to various side projects — and back with intensity. Save Rock And Roll’s first track, and the album’s second single, “The Phoenix,” is the most impressive piece of work in the bunch. It strikes with the dramatic severity of a blockbuster film trailer: an orchestra led by driving chords on violins and every two measures struck with the sort of percussive royal thuds that bring with them exploding film titles or a star actor’s name. As Stump’s barking verse starts in, so does a fist pumping kick drum, the whole song charging like a rally cry.

Some of the lyrics’ juvenile nature will irk to cringes, such as “We are the jack-o-lanterns in July, setting fire to the sky.” and “cross walks and crossed hearts and hope-to-dies.” Still, Stumps’ heroism in convincingly belting the battle cry “put on your war paint!” largely absolves these grievances. What’s more, his knack for anthemic hooks is on full display here, as he both blends strong lines into the forceful verse and then lets those catchy melodies air out a little in the chorus. Stump’s delivery is strong, and his rhythmic cadence calls to mind Michael Jackson‘s best. All along, Butch Walker‘s production continues epically with rock and roll swagger fused with the propulsion of a club hit.

The next track, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” follows well in line. And then “Alone Together” is carried at first solely by Stump’s defined voice and light pianos in the back, feeling ready for a down-tempo stadium singalong before breaking into the full band and easily echoed backing vocals.

Onward the rest of the album rolls with decent consistency, though it’s definitely top heavy with these three tracks leading off. There are a few unlikely guest appearances that fit in without drawing too much attention, good or bad. UK pop singer Foxes backs up Stump on “Just One Yesterday,” which comes in feeling a lot like Adele‘s “Rolling In The Deep.” Big Sean seamlessly delivers a totally fine generic rap verse on the subject of lust and love at the end of “The Mighty Fall.” On “Rat A Tat,” Courtney Love comes out swinging with a nod to Britney Spears — “It’s Courtney, bitch” — before entering into an anarchist diatribe reminiscent of Kim Gordon‘s in Sonic Youth’s “The Sprawl.” Love is more aggressive than clever. (She’s more of a Spears than Gordon, anyway.) And then, of course, there’s the aforementioned Elton John contribution to the title track that ties the album together nicely with a slowed-down, put-your-lighters-in-the-air declaration.

Whichever way they went on a new album, Fall Out Boy were destined to lose some of their fans. Simply by taking five years away, even some diehards would have been aged out of their zealotry. So instead of sticking to their reliable four-piece formula that Stump, Pete Wentz, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley went bigger in their production. In the end, they may not have saved rock and roll, but they did save themselves from a dud comeback.

Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: The young and free lovers escape “Alone Together” feels tailor-made for a hand-in-the air singalong. The production starts deliciously bare before erupting into a stadium-shaking anthem — a perfect blend of classic Fall Out Boy and the band’s comeback sound. Best Listened To: Young rock fans that are really pop fans will have a summer sponsored by this album, bringing it everywhere good times are guaranteed.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5