Here's a not-well-kept secret: back in their heyday, Fall Out Boy could stand toe-to-toe with any rock act, not just those corralled into their "pop-punk" sphere. In a very short amount of time, Patrick Stump, Pete Wentz, Andy Hurley and Joe Trohman found a winning formula based upon tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase and razor-sharp hooks; they had great singles ("Grand Theft Autumn," "Sugar, We're Goin' Down") and great albums (2007's "Infinity on High" holds up incredibly well) in their arsenal. In 2009, following the release of the uneven "Folie a Deux," the walls came tumbling down, and the seething band members went their separate ways. Solo projects popped up, and Fall Out Boy's joyful run appeared to have been mummified.
A slighty better-kept secret is that Stump's solo debut, 2011's "Solo Punk," is an arresting, understandably overlooked full-length of nervous white-boy funk and unabashed MJ poses. In spite of the genre in its title, Fall Out Boy's comeback album, "Save Rock and Roll," is more informed by its singer's dance-based foray than most of the band's previous albums. Songs like "Miss Missing You," "Where Did The Party Go" and especially "Death Valley" sometimes treat their guitar segments like hood ornaments while allowing Stump's elastic voice to command its audience to move. First single "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)" is a fist-pumping fire-starter, but the song glides instead of thrashes -- one of the reasons it's taken to Top 40 radio.
"Save Rock and Roll" contains some head-scratching collaborations, including link-ups with Big Sean and Courtney Love, but even those that fall relatively flat are still positive indicators that Fall Out Boy are back to having fun, stretching their legs and taking risks. A band that was severely fractured is now whole again, and even although "Save Rock and Roll" is a bit of a bumpy ride, the band's recharged ambition should be celebrated. If you didn't think that Fall Out Boy couldn't produce more compelling music now that their specific genre is out of vogue, give a listen to "Young Volcanoes," "Just One Yesterday" and the title track, a loony but glorious duet with Elton John.
What other songs on "Save Rock and Roll" are worth a gander? Check out this track-by-track review of Fall Out Boy's comeback record.
1. The Phoenix
"Put on your war paint!" Stump cries over cinematic strings and menacing percussion. True to its title, "Save Rock and Roll" starts in grand fashion, as "The Phoenix" is used to shove the listener to the ground and relay the message that Fall Out Boy is back.
2. My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)
- An obvious first single choice and a natural evolution of the Fall Out Boy sound, "My Songs Know…" is muscular in scope and jittery in practice, with rolling chants cresting above Stump's nervous energy. It's not "Sugar, We're Goin' Down," but that hook remains scorching.
3. Alone Together - A Mobius strip of a pop song, the shifting verses and choruses here continuously double back with instrumental tweaks, turning distinct segments into repeated parts of a memorable whole. The lyrics are cliche -- "Scream it from the top of your lungs," "I don't know where I'm going, but I don't think I'm coming home" -- but the song calls for simple pleasures.
4. Where Did The Party Go - The first song on the album with charm to spare, "Where Did The Party Go," rides Wentz's slick baseline and rests easy upon Butch Walker's shimmering dance production. Unlike the enjoyable but laboring "My Songs Know…," the thrills at the core of this track are effortlessly drawn.
5. Just One Yesterday feat. Foxes - Scooping up the stylish aura of "Where Did The Party Go" with aplomb is "Just One Yesterday," a fun, funky torch song that recalls Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and opens with the incredible line, "I thought of angels choking on their halos - get them drunk on rose water." Foxes is the Stockton to Stump's Malone here, generously assisting his toothy swagger.
6. The Mighty Fall feat. Big Sean - One wouldn't think that a Fall Out Boy song featuring Big Sean would necessarily work… and "The Mighty Fall," sadly, does not. Built around a wink-wink hook ("Whoa, how the mighty fall… in love"), the song slips off the rails when the G.O.O.D. Music MC starts dropping unsexy double-entendres.
7. Miss Missing You - Perhaps the disco-tinged "Miss Missing You" serves as a breakup song that has nothing to do with romance -- after all, lines like "Sometimes before it gets better, the darkness gets bigger/The person that you'd take a bullet for is behind the trigger" allude to the strife that eventually set FOB ablaze in 2009. Whatever the lyrical inspiration, "Miss Missing You" washes the bitterness of "The Mighty Fall" out of the listener's eardrums.
8. Death Valley - More than any other song on "Save Rock and Roll," "Death Valley" sounds like an outtake from Stump's 2011 solo album "Soul Punk" -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The acoustic interlude momentarily slows down the momentum, but Andy Hurley's kinetic drumming snaps the dance groove back into place.
9. Young Volcanoes
Ignore that self-satisfied chuckle in the middle of "Young Volcanoes" and bask in the stunning rock anthem that blooms around it: synthesizing U2, neo-folk and, yes, Train's "Hey Soul Sister," the song is the album's Frankenstein high point, and a glaring choice for single number two.
10. Rat A Tat feat. Courtney Love - "It's Courtney, bitch!" goes the intro to this forced punk somersault. Love's sneering doesn't sink the catchy song, but the Hole leader's presence feels like a shoehorned gimmick -- a pity, since with an expanded role, she could have an enticing omega to Stump's alpha.
11. Save Rock and Roll feat. Elton John - It's a Fall Out Boy song, featuring Elton John, that's called "Save Rock and Roll"… and it actually tries to save rock and roll. It's messy, strange, wholly earnest and truly mesmerizing; strap in and throw your devil horns in the air.