In preparing to write this review, I took a day to sit and listen to Fall Out Boy‘s discography. In a lot of ways, it felt like growing up all over again. I’ve been listening to the band for about a third of my life, and I have a lot of really strong memories of things I did with those songs as the soundtrack. As I took each album off of my turntable and put the next one on, I couldn’t help but notice the differences in sound as the band reached each new stage of its career. Each record was as much a response to its predecessor as it was a new statement and expression of where the band was at the time. That’s a big part of why Fall Out Boy was so wildly popular and, at the same time, easy to hate. A brilliant writer once said, “they always bring up how you changed.” Save Rock and Roll will foster exactly those sorts of conversations. Taking elements of the band’s past material, combining it with parts of Soul Punk, and informing that blend with the state of popular music in the past few years, this record is Fall Out Boy in 2013 – the same band you’ve always known, reacting to its own past and the world around it.
Dynamic and driving, “The Phoenix” marks a triumphant return for Fall Out Boy. A call to arms with an indulgently dark atmosphere and full of fantastic string arrangements, this song takes the band’s sound and kicks it up a few notches. Patrick Stump’s voice sounds more aggressive than it ever has, and everything sounds massive. “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up)” maintains that huge sonic quality, though with a distinctly different feel. Andy Hurley’s drum fills leading into the choruses are perfect, and the soaring “ohs” are infectious. While the guitar parts aren’t quite at the forefront of the mix, they provide an essential element as a bit of counterpoint for Stump’s vocals. From the beginning of “Alone Together,” the synth bed and pounding low drums indicate that the band was shooting for Top 40 glory, or at the very least influenced by it. These are some of the catchiest melodies Stump has ever written, and lines like “we could stay young forever” play into common pop tropes. However, the track takes those elements and combines them with beautiful acoustic guitars, trademark Fall Out Boy lead guitar lines, and fantastic lyricism in most places. This makes for a song that would feel right at home on the radio but has a good deal more substance that what you’d typically hear there. While it’s almost sure to turn off those fans looking only for Take This to Your Grave Part Two, the band nails the sound perfectly and the song is a highlight of the record.
“Where Did the Party Go” builds up from a bass line and kick drum to a saccharine ode to good times. While a significant chunk of the lyrics are forgettable, the second and third verses are great, and the piano near the end of the song is a nice touch. If at least one person doesn’t go rollerskating to this song, something’s seriously wrong with how people are living nowadays. “Just One Yesterday” is another standout, even if the verses sound a little like they’re ripping off “Rolling In The Deep.” The lyrics are classic Pete Wentz, and Foxes’s guest vocals are haunting over that piano bit. Everything about the song is simply spot-on. “The Mighty Fall” features some great riffing from Joe Trohman, and the hip-hop elements throughout allow for Big Sean‘s spot to fit in really well. While there are sure to be a lot of people lamenting those parts, there are few bands that could incorporate them as effortlessly as Fall Out Boy does, and I’d love to hear more collaborations like this (*cough* Kanye *cough*) in the future.
With its synth chords and soaring vocals, “Miss Missing You” sounds made for driving around in the summer, windows down, singing along at the top of your lungs. However, the song doesn’t quite have the same spark as most of the others on Save Rock and Roll, and it’s the sort of track that you’ll enjoy when you’re listening to it, but probably never pick to listen to on its own. It works in the context of the album, but falls to the wayside in the face of the strength of a lot of these other songs. “Death Valley” is another that is a bit forgettable. The production on the vocals is largely lackluster, though everything falls into place for the bridge, which is easily the strongest part of the track in every category. “Young Volcanoes” is an endlessly catchy acoustic-based pop song, sure to get stuck in your head. Stump’s chuckle toward the middle of the song is the best indication that the band is truly making music because they want to and, while that quality shows through for most of the album, it’s particularly evident on this song.
Even though “Rat A Tat” has the worst guest feature of the record, the song consists of some of the band’s best work in almost every other category. The chorus is tremendous, the “rat a tat” chants are endlessly catchy, and lines like “are you ready for another bad poem” and “we’re all fighting growing old, in the hopes of a few minutes more” are album standouts. Though Courtney Love‘s annoying intro and first two verses take away from what the song could’ve been, her final appearance works relatively well. If they’d cut the rest out, this might’ve been the best song on the record. I’m holding out for a version of this without Love’s parts, but I still love this song on the whole. Closer “Save Rock and Roll” is similar in that it’s a great track with guest vocals that detract from the song. While Elton John‘s vocals work in harmony with Stump’s, they sound a little ridiculous on their own – particularly when he holds out the word “scream” leading into the final chorus. That said, this is one of the best-written songs on the record. Callbacks to the band’s previous work in the lyrics and the sampled “until your breathing stops forever” bring to mind “What a Catch, Donnie” in the best way. The line “so fuck you, you can go cry me an ocean” is simply spectacular, and the way that this song builds makes it as great a way to end the album as “The Phoenix” was to open it.
After nearly four-and-a-half years of waiting for new music, I can confidently say that this is a Fall Out Boy album that holds its own with a back catalog that made the band one of the biggest ever to come out of its scene. As is the case with any of the band’s records, it’s different. While it’s not without a few missteps (perhaps more on the guest side of things than anything actual members of the band did), I can tell you that this is going to be one of my most-played records of 2013, and it’s almost guaranteed to be in my top ten at the end of the year. I knew those two things after my first listen; I’m even more certain of those two things after my first dozen listens. I know why people are going to say they hate this record. “It’s not rock and roll.” “It’s too pop.” “This isn’t the band I knew.” “Why did they work with Big Sean?” “Courtney Love!? What!?” Here’s the thing: the band wasn’t going to come back until they felt comfortable sharing what they made with others. Save Rock and Roll is the record this band wanted to write at this time. If you went into the album expecting it to sound like Take This to Your Grave or From Under the Cork Tree, that’s your own fault. Rock and roll is all about expressing yourself, being a little loud, and sharing something you love with others, even if some are going to hate it. This album does all of those things, and it does them well. If you don’t like it, you can go cry me an ocean – I’ll be over here enjoying one of the best records of the year.