Fall Out Boy comeback album hit with mixed reviews

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Fall Out Boy's 2018 "MANIA" is the second album in its comeback streak, following 2015's "American Beauty/American Psycho." ("MANIA"/is5-ssl.mzstatic.com)

Waiting for Fall Out Boy’s next album was… mania.

Over two and a half years after the controversial studio album “American Beauty/American Psycho,” Fall Out Boy announced that their seventh studio album “MANIA” would be released Sept 15, 2017. A month before its planned debut, the band decided to postpone the “MANIA” release until Jan 19, 2018.

On Aug 3, the lead singer Patrick Stump issued a statement on his twitter about the delay.

“The album just really isn’t ready, and it felt very rushed,” Stump said. “I’m never going to put a record out I genuinely don’t believe is at least as strong or valid as the one that came before it and in order to do that we need a little bit more time to properly and carefully record solid performances.”

The delay was shocking. “Young and Menace” was the first single released for the album and debuted in April. They hyped up the new album by announcing the MANIA Tour that spring along with merch packages containing physical copies of the album.

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When delays arise, expectations become higher. Fans started asking questions: What would they be changing? Are they going in a new direction or are they going back to their roots? Would the album be anything like their released songs, if revision took place after the songs debuted?

The stakes were high, especially considering the reception of their previous album, “American Beauty/American Psycho.” It was the second album released in the Fall Out Boy revival, after “Save Rock and Roll” which was their debut return album after the band broke up in 2009 and stayed on hiatus until 2013. Like “MANIA,” “AB/AP” had a lot to live up to with keeping the dream alive.

The general response to the album was lackluster. On Metacritic, the “AB/AP” album was reviewed with a score of 72 among critics and 7.6 among site users. RollingStone gave the album 3 out of 5 stars. “AB/AP” neither wowed nor disappointed listeners. The album review writer Collin Brennan from Consequence of Sound admitted that bassist and lyricist “Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump know how to write a lethal hook,” but argued that the album was just a further indicator of the band not knowing its identity or its direction. On a technical level, Brennan criticized the album for, what could be summarized as, an improper use of sampling and a tonal mismatch–literally, not musically–in its rhetoric.

Fall Out Boy defends their use of sampling as they take a lot of their inspiration from rap and hip hop. Their inspiration does not stop at working with artists like Big Sean but is expressed with sampling. Stump pointed this out in “AB/AP.”

“On this record especially, we really focused on the idea of sampling,” Stump said. “It’s still this thing that’s so taboo in rock music. It’s an art form. You can do such amazing things with it. Those things are very obviously influenced by hip-hop.”

Despite understanding the brave step Fall Out Boy took to breach this taboo in the rock genre, it is hard to ignore the criticism the band has faced. Fall Out Boy has had a series of rough patches and the album delay was an indicator of yet another hitch. The band had a lot to prove with “MANIA” and the delay had to yield album that would restore faith in their fans and haters alike.

On Jan 19, the heavily anticipated album was finally released.

The album took some risks. The song “Young and Menace,” which is the first featured song out of ten total songs, takes inspiration from electronic-dance music. With a spooky presence and an electronic manipulation of the sound, the song stands out as unique and nothing like what has been released in more mainstream music. Wentz, in a Billboard interview, explained it is “our job as artists to evolve.” Burna Boy, a Nigerian reggae-dancehall singer and songwriter, was featured in the song “Sunshine Riptide,” which provided a new take on Fall Out Boy’s influences. Further sampling was used in numerous songs as well.

“The thing I point to now more than anything is we’re listening to a lot more music happening worldwide,” Wentz said. “The thing I love about the globalization of music is I’m listening to beats that this kid in Lagos made… that would have never happened before.”

The direction the band is heading can be best described in Wentz’s statement: “That’s what our band needs… a foot in the future and a foot in the past.”

“Last of the Real Ones” and “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” exemplified this statement. These two songs harken back the most to the days of Fall Out Boy’s past. A nostalgic feeling washes over me when I listen to these songs, calling back to middle school and mourning a relationship I had never been in. Fans of Fall Out Boy’s earlier days could connect with these songs.

>“Champion” has been regarded as the new “Centuries” from “AB/AP.” It would not be a wrong comparison. While “AB/AP” was not a bad album it, I can definitely see the truth of its criticisms. “Champion” reminds me of those criticisms and would be my least favorite song on the album.

The album’s biggest downfall is in telling a cohesive narrative. The cohesion of a theme or tone is lost halfway through the album. The first half of the album features primarily the pre-released songs, before the album was entirely out. The second half of the album is composed entirely of new album exclusive releases. I would suspect that this half of the album takes up the brunt of the revisions and that being said, I wish we had more of the second half of the album. I loved the majority of the pre-released songs, but the new songs provide such an intriguing story as the flow together from “Church” to “Heaven’s Gate” to “Bishop’s Knife Trick.” I wish the band was able to explore that direction more.

With that, if I could decide where Fall Out Boy would take their musical path, I would like their music to veer in the direction of “Young and Menace” and “Church.” To me, the songs represent the album. They provide a refreshing new sound while holding onto what has made me connect with their music when I first discovered them.

The album is beyond satisfactory to me for the majority of the individual songs, but as a collective whole it is weak. I wish Fall Out Boy could recreate “Save Rock and Roll” as it had a strong narrative. The one thing “MANIA” achieves in recreating that impressive revival album is the unapologetic, experimental work that I admire. I would rather support a band that makes mistakes by trying something new rather than producing the same work decade after decade.

Does “MANIA” do more than “AB/AP”? Absolutely. “AB/AP” was not as experimental, even though their sampling efforts rubbed some people the wrong way. Fall Out Boy took more risks with this album and more time to reflect on themselves as artists. While “AB/AP” was more cohesive as an entire album, “MANIA” took creative leaps that were needed to keep Fall Out Boy alive. Did “MANIA” need that extra time for revision? I would say so. The songs in the last half of the album have a more cohesive narrative, possibly due to the revisions, regardless this part of the album was their strongest.

While revising the album was risky, it indicates creative reflection on the part of Fall Out Boy. With this new direction I think it is safe to expect a step away from “AB/AP” or rather “a foot in the future and a foot in the past.”

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