Now that many fans of the premier pop-punkers are of legal drinking age, 2013 has proven to be the year of nostalgia tours for these bands. Case-in-point: Sum 41’s 10-year celebration of their “Does This Look Infected?” record, as well as New Found Glory’s most recent tour representing 10 years since its release of “Sticks and Stones.” Fall Out Boy, rather than reminding folks of its first full-length album, (also released 10 years ago) “Take This To Your Grave,” decided to provide a dose of something new with “Save Rock and Roll.”
FOB’s new record is the first one released after its hiatus, which began in the fall of 2009. Prior to the band’s 2013 reformation, its members dabbled with solo and side projects, none of which ever received the same recognition as anything FOB created.
“Save Rock and Roll” picks up where the FOB arc ended up last. Ever since the release of its aforementioned debut record, the band has strewn increasingly away from its pop-punk roots to a stronger pop, Top 40 sound. Its peak was in 2005, with “From Under the Cork Tree” - the quintessential record of the FOB repertoire. The band’s downturn began with 2007’s “Infinity on High,” which was a clear step toward something more ambitious outside of the limiting rock band texture. “Folie Ã Deux,” the last album before FOB’s hiatus, could have been “Infinity on High, Part Two.”
FOB’s new album deviates further from rock to (poorly-executed) pop. It’s bombastic club rock that represents one thing: a dying breath for FOB. The songs showcase the band in a vicious struggle to fully develop its musical ideas. Furthermore, as a product of weak composition and songwriting, the album represents a band that is grappling with irrelevance.
Although FOB has knocked the lengthy song titles for the most part that dominated much of its previous albums, there is one exception in 2013: the new album’s lead single, “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up.)” Of course, the quantity of words in the song are the only thing going for it for FOB nostalgists such as myself, if that is anything at all. “Light Em Up” is this pummeling chant of a song that pinholes modern FOB into this brand of messily crafted pop-rock. This is a repeated motif on this record, as six tracks later “Death Valley” tries to do the same thing in a dancier format.
The words that speak for this record, humorously enough, can be connected to a diminished FOB. It is covered with references to maintaining youth and past charms. The album’s third track, “Alone Together,” this album’s version of “Infinity on High’s” “I’m Like a Lawyer With the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You),” has a chorus of “Let’s be alone together / We could stay young forever.” This is followed up with “Where Did the Party Go” and the Foxes-featured “Just One Yesterday,” which in themselves refer to finished actions and glory of years past. A snippet from the latter’s refrain: “I want to teach you a lesson in the worst kind of way / Still I’d trade all my tomorrows for just one yesterday.” (If only Foxes found feature opportunities in other bands.)
Jay-Z’s voice opened up “Infinity On High,” but hip-hop takes on a bigger role in “Save Rock and Roll” with Big Sean’s verse on “The Mighty Fall.” (Another title that implicates present failure.) This song is comparable to Sum 41’s collaboration with Ludacris for a rock remix of “Get Back,” and comes off as abrupt and forced in the landscape of this album.
The irony of this record’s title is brought to the forefront with “Young Volcanoes.” Guitar finally takes on a front role in this record, no longer being blurred by whatever superfluous timbres FOB decided to add to make its sound more complex. This piece serves as a dedication to our wild, youthful generation – our young volcanoes. Over a campfire strum invoking the thematics of Matisyahu’s “One Day,” lead vocalist Patrick Stump sings in one way or another about how FOB will, indeed, save rock ‘n’ roll.
It evidently takes a piano ballad and supporting vocals from Elton John to do so. “Young Volcanoes” precedes the last song and title track of the album, which interweaves a Fray-like piano aesthetic with your mind’s inner voice screaming, “Why, Elton, why?” On first listen, around minute three of the near five-minute song, I skipped the track to the record’s end. Upon listening to the whole song, I realized I was right in skipping it.
At this point it would seem fitting to write some resonant statement of how FOB ought to find themselves and revisit their authentic four-piece punk sound. But really, if the counter-intuitive mission that is “Save Rock and Roll” is where FOB is now, the band is probably lost.
An earlier version of this article listed the Fall Out Boy album name as ‘Sticks and Stones’ in the headline. It is ‘Save Rock and Roll.’