Fall Out Boy – M A N I A
The new Fall Out Boy is titled M A N I A and the all-caps, shouting-in-your-face title might be the most subtle part of the entire record. Arriving with an album cover that looks like the set from The 1975’s recent videos, FOB breathlessly cram every popular trend in music into 35 minutes as they distance themselves from, well, themselves. The 2013 comeback album Save Rock And Roll, ironically, was the band’s first step away from their pop-punk roots and M A N I A brings that journey to it’s grating end.
It didn’t have to end like this. Last year, Paramore and All Time Low both released albums that breathed new life into each band’s sound without sacrificing their roots. Pop-punk bands can still fill theaters around the world but Fall Out Boy sound determined to cling to the sort of popularity that fills large arenas and will, seemingly, play just about anything to keep it.
Opener “Young And Menace” pitch-shifts the life out of Patrick Stump’s voice and leaves you with the uncomfortable vision of a middle-aged man in skinny jeans trying to blend into a mass of teenagers at an EDM festival. It also introduces the first of many perplexing pop culture references – “Kill me twice like my name was Nikki Sixx”. While Sixx pretty much did die once from an overdose, he hasn’t been killed twice. Later on the album, Fall Out Boy threaten to “go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee” which only makes sense if Harding was the one who attacked Nancy Kerrigan (Shane Stant was the attacker). Or maybe FOB are threatening to hire someone to hit us in the knee?
Far worse than the lyrics, the production on M A N I A aims for the listeners who drop their phone in a red Solo cup at a party to amplify the sound. The so-called Loudness War has been won by Fall Out Boy. Any dynamic range in the music has been crushed to death with every track pushed to the edge of clipping. This Loudness War chart needs to be completely rewritten in the wake of this album. Go back and compare “Dance, Dance” to any song on M A N I A to hear the difference. The band’s soft/loud dynamic has been replaced by a sonic sledgehammer.
The Chicago band’s shameless appropriation of other musical styles becomes most uncomfortable on “HOLD ME TIGHT OR NOT” (someone tell me which Shakira song this lifts from before I lose my mind) and “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” which uses the intro from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”. The band sounds slightly better in their own skin but “Champion” rehashes the blueprint of “Centuries” in a calculated attempt to land a prime TV placement during the NBA Playoffs. “The Last Of the Real Ones” eases up on the throw everything into the sink approach and makes for a decent single that won’t make Fall Out Boy fans cringe. It is a rare moment on an album that makes me pray for a My Chemical Romance reunion.
There is a huge difference between evolving as a band (see: Radiohead) and changing to stay relevant. There is nothing brave about the latter and no amount of record sales will salvage integrity. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?