Is Fall Out Boy’s Mania Good? Well…

Seems like the whole damn world went and lost its mind
And all my childhood heroes have fallen off or died

Most of you probably didn’t realise Fall Out Boy had a new album out yesterday. Heck, I didn’t until I stumbled across ARTV’s video review of Mania (or M A N I A), who honestly isn’t a YouTuber I follow religiously and I certainly disagree with a lot of his stances on Fall Out Boy’s past music, but for the most part I agree with him here.

Now, for transparency’s sake let it be known that I am a Fall Out Boy fan. When Sugar We’re Going Down first released, myself and my friends at the time would sing it at each other at irritatingly high volume, only to be replaced by Dance Dance. I bought From Under the Cork Tree and listened to it a lot. It was a great album. I also loved From Infinity on High, and then followed a few years where I didn’t listen to much music at all, but when I came back to it and discovered Save Rock and Roll, I realised I still very much loved this bizarre pop-punk/emo/whatever-they-are-now band. I should have seen it coming with American Beauty/American Psycho, in hindsight, which had some really great songs… but overall left me feeling kinda flat. At the time I just thought, “Hey, hopefully their next one is a return to form.”

Oh how wrong I was.

Mania truly feels like it’s living up to its title, which is referring to the mania that comes from the bipolar disorder which bassist and lead songwriter Pete Wentz lives with. When it was first announced, we were offered this purple concept which made no real sense but diehard Fall Out Boy fans, of course, latched onto right away. Then came the first single, Young & Menace.

 

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Yes, I tried to avoid gifs in this post but… puppies!

 

Young & Menace is a song. Oh boy is it a song. It feels dark and angry, and there’s this EDM drop that feels so out of left field for Fall Out Boy. A lot of critics call it a mess of a song. It’s an odd little song, and the video introduced these llama characters that persist through all of this album’s music videos and I’m still not sure on the point of – merch, probably? – a few listens I found the song grew on me. I can appreciate the drop as part of the song, to me, it works really well. The lyrics feel relatable to me. It feels like a powerful track. Though I completely understand why so many people despise the song, it’s very different. So considering the very negative reaction to Young & Menace, Fall Out Boy backtracked somewhat and delayed the album’s release to rerecord and rework some tracks, which was supposed to be Autumn 2017 rather than mid-January. Basically, they announced the launch date before it was finished and it bit them in the arse.

 

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What is the point in you, llama? And are you Brendon Urie? Inquiring minds must know!

 

This is where my opinions go a little off the rails of everybody else’s. I’m seeing quite a polarising reaction between the diehards painting themselves purple and calling it a “bop” or worse: “greatest album ever”. And the other folk who are calling it out on its shit. I’m seeing a lot of love going towards Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) and Last of the Real Ones and a lot of criticism for Young & Menace and Champion. I disagree with a lot of it but that’s how tastes and opinions go.

 

crank that frank purple for mania
What even..

 

Looking at the record as a whole piece of work, Mania feels a lot like Fall Out Boy were trying to do modern pop while sort of continuing as a rock band, and it just missed the mark. Yes, they’ve been going that way for a while but it’s really obvious here. There is so much lyrical repetition which is a huge bugbear of mine in the current musical climate, not that music can’t be repetitive but if every song is going for catchy by repetition then nothing really stands out. An example of this done right recently is from my other favourite band, the Foo Fighters with their most recent studio album, Concrete & Gold. There’s one song I can think of that I would call repetitive (The Sky is a Neighbourhood), but it feels like that song uses repetition as a tool to drive the point home rather than as a crutch like pretty much every song on Mania does.

I could perhaps forgive it to an extent if the catches were even worth repeating I mean, let’s take Champion. A grandiose song that’s clearly supposed to be one of those uplifting songs for people going through hard times and not alike to latch onto and belt out at concerts, but not once do we really get a feel for what exactly it is we’re living through? The chorus in full:

If I can live through this
If I can live through this
If I can live through this
I can do anything

If I can live through this
If I can live through this
If I can live through this
I can do anything

I presume that we’re to take this mania theme throughout the album and that’s what the song refers to, which would make some sense but the first time we heard it was as a single and as an individual song frankly, it’s a bland mess. It’s catchy and by far not the worst thing I’ve ever heard, not even in 2017/2018, but it’s not interesting and that kind of defeats the point.

hold me right or don't by world famous punk band
I really should have screencapped this when I noticed it in my YouTube playlist. Just screams to me “This band is so weirdly forgettable we can’t even get their song name or genre right.” Sigh.

I can see the mania concept, for sure. There’s a whole bunch strewn throughout the songs about drug use, and religion, and relationship difficulties, and mistakes in youth, and it feels a lot like it needs to slow down a bit. It feels like such a stressful listen. The sound of each song jumps from EDM to tropical-infused pop-rock and reggae sounds, to these strange repetitive songs which don’t work, and then we come to Church and Heaven’s Gate.

Church is… well. They released a video for it yesterday and after I heard “If you were church, I’d get on my knees, woo, get on my knees, get on my knees” a couple of times I turned it off because, for goodness sake, these lyrics are just utter nonsense! I understand what they’re getting at, but it’s not as smart as they seem to think it is. The backing music is bland and the idea of a romance being likened to a religious experience has been done before, and so much better. Here’s one, not really to my tastes, but Hozier’s Take Me to Church gets the point across. Fall Out Boy’s Church left me, well… nowhere because I clicked off the video and only came back to it later when I listened through the album a couple times but frankly, I had mostly zoned out by this point and on my second listen my opinion hadn’t changed much. I notice the mania theme again in the line “you’re the one habit I just can’t break” and a soulful feel to the song, but overall, eh.

As for Heaven’s Gate, suddenly we have this slow love song which is, forgetting it’s Fall Out Boy for just a moment, a soulful love song reminiscent of (almost) Marvin Gaye. And I don’t know, maybe it’s a good song and I’m being too harsh here, but it hurts my ears. Clearly, this is a song about drug use and the Heaven’s Gate cult, probably obsession, disguised as a beautiful love song – and oh god are people going to slow dance to this at weddings please no. Patrick Stump has always had a “soul voice” and sure, he can sing like a little motherfucker, but there’s something off about his pitch here and it hurts.

And that’s probably why I zoned out and missed Sunshine Riptide on my first listen but it doesn’t stand out to me. It’s a reggae-styled track featuring an artist named Burna Boy. It’s not bad, but again, meh.

Bishops Knife Trick woke me back up though and this is a song I can dig. But I almost missed it. The final track on Mania feels like an actually well put together song. The musical sound flows as I don’t think any other track on this album manages, aside from perhaps Young & Menace or Wilson, the bass feels deep, the guitar is raw, the drums add atmosphere, there’s some synth (?) in there that keep it in theme with the overall spectacle that is Mania but here, it all fits together. And Patrick’s singing feels right. Yes, there’s still lyrical repetition but as I said before, it’s only bad when it doesn’t have a point. In this song, it works. Bishops Knife Trick feels like a natural evolution of Fall Out Boy’s sound and a song that reminds me somewhat of Infinity on High’s Golden with its melancholy lonely feel, just a little more mature.

Where Bishops Knife Track grabs me, though, the rest of Mania just feels like a hot mess and if I hadn’t written it off somewhere between the releases of Champion and Hold Me Tight or Don’t, I would be a disappointed Fall Out Boy fan right now. Instead, I just feel uncomfortable.

fall-out-boy-2017-balloons-cr-pamela-littky-billboard-1548

Fall Out Boy for a long while were my favourite band. I love their nonsense poetry lyrics and quirky little bops, Patrick’s soul voice and some of the deeper moments. This band meant a lot to me as a wee teenage emo when I was trying to work out who I was while realising I had depression, and I came back to them later, overjoyed that I still loved their music. But now? They’re merely background noise designed to sell merch and no amount of Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) can convince me otherwise.

fob_fidget
Mania fidget spinners. Case in point.

I don’t want them to go back in time to their old style, I just want them to recover their passion and use their talent to make music (in whatever genre) that is a little different to the shit we’re stuck with on commercial radios these days, music that actually feels like something that has had real time and love put into it. I believe they can recover when I listen to Young & Menace, Wilson, and Bishops Knife Trick, I just don’t know that they will.

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