Review Summary: This isn't a rock album. It's a pop album, and a damn good one at that.
Pop success can be a dirty, filthy thing. From its resulted tone to its potential for “creative differences”, it can change a band. Fall Out Boy
have changed considerably since the days of the punk rock-fueled Take This To Your Grave
and From Under the Cork Tree
. The band’s sound has definitely expanded into a bigger realm as their success grew. The quirky, rough-around-the-edges punk rock influences slowly disappeared into enormous choruses and massive production-fueled shifts in dynamics. This became relatively clear around the release of Infinity on High
, but this is pristinely clear now. Fall Out Boy’s punk roots have been shed into the realm of electronic and alternative synth sounds, leaving them as a Top 40 pop band instead. Despite what the title of the album may imply, Fall Out Boy are making zero effort to “save rock and roll.” Calling this album a rock album is a lie. It’s a pop record, through and through.
But the big question is this: does this major shift in sound hurt the band’s reunion disc Save Rock and Roll
? That’s not an easy question to answer, but then again, this isn’t an easy album to critically analyze. Comparing Save Rock and Roll
to Fall Out Boy’s earlier records, at this point, is like comparing apples and oranges. It really does feel like a whole ‘nother band playing. But in an attempt to answer this prodding question, Fall Out Boy’s newest album doesn’t feel raw or intimate by any means, but the band has near mastered both the arts of solid songwriting and intense, exciting pop music. In what originally sounds like a disturbing detour for the band, Save Rock and Roll
shows that the band is picking up right off where they left off, only with a much more cohesive and refined vision in tow.
Patrick Stump may have become the poster-child of pop-punk-emo popularity contests during the early 2000’s, but the lead vocalist is letting his love of classic pop songs show on Save Rock and Roll
(in all the title’s irony). The vocal range and versatility provided by Stump can rival that of Michael Jackson himself. The lead single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” is a huge and intense track where Stump can demonstrate his vocal chops in new ways that have yet to be shown on other records (that high note during the chorus is downright infectious). But Stump is only one component in the equation; the rest of the band members have made amazing contributions to this album, all in the form of quality pop songwriting.
All four members have their head in the game here. It’s interesting because after hearing Stump and Wentz stick to their pop-punk guns in side projects, you also can’t forget Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley’s involvement with the metal supergroup, The Damned Things. This diverse movement of post-breakup projects initially makes the reunion feel more nostalgic than progressive, but that’s not the case. The band’s control over the exciting verses and explosive choruses is honed, precise, and downright impressive. The opener “The Phoenix” is drenched in energy, with a string section revving up like a car engine and a pumped chorus harkening back to the better parts of Infinity on High
. This energy does feel a tad more subdued throughout the rest of the album, but re-emerges on songs like “Death Valley” and “Better Than This (Rat a Tat).” Even when the intensity wanes, Fall Out Boy keep their spirits high with infectious choruses and plenty of bouncy verses, clearly shown in “Young Volcanoes.” The band is all-in on Save Rock and Roll
, with no punk rock connotations to distract them.
The guests who appear on Save Rock and Roll are a hodge-podge of rap (Big Sean), pop (Elton John), and whatever Courtney Love is doing these days. Big Sean’s involvement with “The Mighty Fall” is disorienting at first, but it fuses in that pop-rap combo that’s become so popular these days without feeling out of place. Elton John’s contribution to the album title track is just as big as Fall Out Boy are going for with this album, and while his lower croon doesn’t flow as seamlessly as liked, the vibe he emits from “Save Rock and Roll” is just as powerful and emotive as expected. It just works. Oh, and “Better Than This (Rat a Tat).” In what could otherwise be a completely passable track from the band, Courtney Love’s snarl is an inclusion without any purpose. It’s unquestionably out of place on this pop record. The guest appearances are respectable, with some feeling like no-brainers and others feeling like total mismatches, but Fall Out Boy keep their love of pop alive with a majority of the inclusions.
As stated earlier, this isn’t a rock album. It’s a pop album, and a damn good one at that. It can be disorienting seeing a band originally classified as punk rock slowly slip into the gaping maws of Top 40 success, but when it’s done this well, you can throw Fall Out Boy a bone. This reunion disc, in a strange way, picks up right where the band left off, but with a clearer focus and refined ambition. If you were expecting another Take This To Your Grave
from this reunion, you won’t find it here. However, if you’re after a resilient control of pop sensibilities, Save Rock and Roll
should be in your library. Swallow your pride and ignore the album title; this is some of the best Fall Out Boy in a long while.