Review Summary: Detox just to retox.
Without ever acknowledging what they were doing, Fall Out Boy, in the lead-up to So Much (For) Stardust
, embarked on an image rehabilitation that primed longtime fans to expect something great before a single note had been debuted. Re-teaming with golden age producer Neal Avron, signing back to Fueled by Ramen and giving a series of interviews with Joe Trohman praising the return of guitars and Patrick Stump comparing the new album to a bridge between Folie a Deux
and Save Rock and Roll
, the band subtly realigned expectations away from their disastrous last two albums towards something like optimism.
It's a clever trick, especially given that So Much (For) Stardust
is less a full-throttle return to a pre-hiatus sound and more a summation of the band's entire career, with flourishes of Stump's unjustly overlooked Soul Punk
thrown in for good measure. The welcome return of Avron did not push the band straight back into the pop-punk angst and melodrama of From Under the Cork Tree
, undoubtedly for the better. Instead the producer strips away the suffocating layers of unnecessary production which choked all life out of MANIA
, restoring a freeing sense of dynamics and coaxing out the best performance from Stump in more than a decade.
The band simply sounds at ease throughout So Much (For) Stardust
, their most consistent album since Infinity on High
and certainly best since Folie
. Trohman, let off the leash for the first time since Pax AM Days
, absolutely steals the show with a flurry of riffs across the record, while Pete Wentz makes a welcome comeback to the too-clever-by-half lyricism he originally made his kingdom, dropping lines like "running middle fingers through the red lights" which make you laugh and roll your eyes at the same time. His creative chemistry with Stump is the strongest it's been in a long time, peaking on "The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)", a reckoning of Wentz's history of drug addiction paired with an absolutely incredible chorus melody which may just be one of the strongest songs the band has ever made.
Really though, there's an embarrassment of riches to pick from here, whether it's the delightfully sticky hooks of "Heartbreak Feels So Good" and "Fake Out", indie-pop tracks which lean closest to the MANIA
sound with infinitely stronger melodies and production; the Disney-villain operatic sweep of "Heaven, Iowa" and "I Am My Own Muse"; or the Prince-indebted Soul Punk
throwbacks "So Good Right Now" and "What a Time to Be Alive". When So Much (For) Stardust
missteps, it does so in a way that's bizarrely endearing, thanks to the goodwill accrued by how much fucking better it is than anyone expected. The corny Wentz spoken word interlude "Baby Annihilation" elicits a nostalgic groan that calls right back to similar silly discursions on "The Carpal Tunnel of Love" and "20 Dollar Nose Bleed", while "Flu Game" is only guilty of being less memorable than all the songs that surround it.
When the title track winds down to a genuinely epic close, reprising a memorable line from opener "Love from the Other Side" with a chorus of choral voices fading out behind Stump's vocal acrobatics, it's honestly difficult not to wonder if a) the singer sold his goddamn soul to the devil and b) Fall Out Boy have somehow made one of their best albums in 2023. The raw energy and occasionally questionable anger of their early years has nicely matured into a confidence and consistency that they've never had before, a diverse set of songs which feels more than the sum of its parts thanks to the band's locked-in chemistry with their longtime producer. Certainly if So Much (For) Stardust
is the beginning of the band's third trilogy, as Stump claims in interviews, the future is looking pretty bright: even the most cynical of former fans may be retoxing on Fall Out Boy sooner rather than later.