Review Summary: ‘It’s got vision, but it’s got no heart’.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Patrick Stump’s first solo album is actually good. Hell, I daresay it occasionally straddles the line between greatness and excellence. Stump’s inclusion of electro-pop, R&B, and funk all help Soul Punk
stand up as a varied and inventive album, one indubitably distinguished from Fall Out Boy’s pop-punk catalogue. It’s chock-full of resplendent vocal harmonies, the production is tip-top, and the feel-good tunes are almost inescapable from start to finish. Stump even employs metaphorical whimsy on most tracks - so subtle at times that it’s easy to miss. All of these ingredients initially point to a cultivated pop success, and it mostly is, but there’s a manifest error which proves problematic in the grand scheme of Stump’s approach.
While on the surface Soul Punk
is one of those albums you kind of want to dislike, further listening reveals it to be wildly fun, however, very detached as well. Stump’s vocals occasionally impede the album’s success, but such is the risk taken in trying to emulate such a highly regarded pop star (Michael Jackson). Its most perceptible fault is also its greatest upside, nevertheless: it’s unashamedly poppy and tailored for radio play. It feels all at once manufactured and joyous, but there’s a clear lack of emotional depth. Not that I mean to suggest that pop music is always meant to elicit some kind of emotional response, because that’s patently false, but some of Soul Punk
’s songs have been so processed and layered that the final product feels like it was designed for shock and awe more than to serve an artistic purpose.
The second and third tracks are a prime example of this. The former - “This City” - in particular feels hollow and done-up to appeal to what’s in vogue. Stump appears to be playing for a larger demographic, striving for mainstream popularity more than actually having fun
with what he’s doing. His vocals might suggest otherwise, but the chorus is dull and by-the-book, and the utilization of hand-claps throughout make it seem gimmicky. “Dance Miserable” takes on a retro ‘80s feel of dance-pop which is, uh, nifty, but the chorus feels derivative of past ideas from Stump, and frankly showcases a rather self-indulgent vocal performance. Even with that said, the songs aren’t necessarily bad, just nowhere near as enjoyable as the rest. They also help epitomize the album’s main problem: it’s all a little detached and drenched in gloss. Almost every track here is as exuberant, shiny, and dressed-up with merriment, but they succeed more than the aforementioned two because of that immensely satisfactory feel-good vibe to them.
Stump shows his best traits on the latter half of the album. “Greed” is a perfect homage to old funk music, suavely moving along with gorgeous guitar chords and uplifting percussion. “Allie”, as well as many songs on the album, sees Stump simulate Michael Jackson’s vocalization as he reaches for the high notes -- sometimes he does this surprisingly well, and other times he goes a little over the score (“Dance Miserable”). Even the songs that aren’t as interesting as others feature great moments. “Coast” showcases some of the best drumming on the album, or in any pop song from 2011, for that matter; the heavenly bridge in “Spotlights (New Regrets)” saves it from being boring; even the brief moment of ambiance in “Everybody Wants Somebody” makes it seem memorable. Within all of these tunes are hidden messages as well. Sometimes they’re cryptic, other times they’re rather easy to make out, but still just as clever. Take the instance in “Run Dry” where Stump calls out the steps to what’s seemingly a drinking song:
‘Step one: drink
Step two: make mistakes
Step three: pretend you don't remember
Step four: drink a little more
Step five: I need to run dry
I'm going to take one more shot then I'm quitting forever
Cross my heart,
Cross my fingers.
Is this fraught with an undercurrent of self-doubt? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, this album gets you thinking when you start to lift back its exterior mask. All in all, Soul Punk
is a very ambitious album if only for the fact that everything, all of the lyrics, the production, the many instruments: guitars, piano, analog synthesizers, percussion, trumpet, valve trombone, alto and tenor saxophones, mandolin, etc., were all put together (and performed) by Patrick Stump alone. The amount of work put in here is massive, but it’s also tarnished slightly because of its lack of emotional depth. Even the lines hammered with staunch conviction contain an inclination of uncertainty. Patrick Stump has it in him to make a bold musical statement, but Soul Punk
plays it a little too safe. But even if you don’t like what he’s going for here, its playfulness and creative merits alone make it, at least, an innocuous statement. I think Stump says it best in “Greed”: ‘It’s got vision, but it’s got no heart’.