Nearly a full year after the release of the first single, Fall Out Boy finally released their highly anticipated seventh album. Truthfully, this album was waited for with equal parts excitement and dread from fans. Each single proved this album would be the farthest from their original sound yet, something many fans are not on board with. Personally, I haven’t minded the band going heavier on the “pop” part of pop punk, but even I was nervous for this record. I was excited for an experimental record, one that sounds like you’re living inside a manic episode. But this album is less experimental and more angry pop with a dash of emo. I like the album, but it doesn’t have the same edge that previous Fall Out Boy records do. In fact, it’s gotten more and more difficult to pick out the actual instruments. Fall Out Boy has become the Maroon 5 of pop punk, straying from real instrumentation and earnest lyrics and into pop gumbo and clichéd Hot Topic phrases. And yet, even if it sounds like the passion is gone, Fall Out Boy still retains that relatable self-loathing and doubt that made them so accessible in the first place. Add Patrick Stump’s unique, powerful voice and I can’t bring myself to call this record a flop in any capacity. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s better than most people are going to give it credit for. And now, here’s a track-by-track review of Fall Out Boy’s latest effort, M A N I A:
- Young and Menace: This acid trip of a song was the first single off the record, and the first song to spell trouble for fans. Creatively using studio effects, pitch shifting takes the instruments and Patrick’s voice and shoves them into a broken blender. This song also directly antagonizes members of the audience who are going to compare this to their old stuff, saying they were just young and emo back then but this is who they are now. That’s a ballsy move, if nothing else, and I have to respect it. Despite this song making several critics’ Worst of 2017 lists, it remains on my rotation. It gave me hope— hope that was immediately crushed by the next single.
- Champion: I’ll admit, the hate-on I once had for this song has gone down. But I still don’t love it. It’s a song about how champions aren’t born but made, and these guys are champions “of the people who don’t believe in champions.” And, while Fall Out Boy’s lyrics have long been the rallying cry for the downtrodden (and by “downtrodden,” I mean emo and misunderstood), it’s still the cheesiest song they’ve ever released. Patrick belts out, “If I can live through this/I can do anything,” a nice notion, but one that belongs on Disney Channel. This song is also why I’ve never understood the voracious hate towards “Young and Menace.” This song is infinitely worse, even if it’s not as bad as I once thought. Still, if you’re going to skip any track on this record, make it this one.
- Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea: This song, on the other hand, does that message right. Or, at least, it does that message in the classic Fall Out Boy way. It’s angry and determined, Patrick declaring he’s going to “go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee.” He also identifies a specific problem, acknowledging that the only thing in his way is himself. The production is messy and noisy, but in the best way. It’s also an acknowledgement of the current state of the world and a reaction to Hollywood icons either dying or being revealed as scumbags. It’s almost a call to protest, the voracity. Instead of letting these disappointments keep them down, Fall Out Boy is standing up and fighting for their happiness. It’s gruff and ferocious and easily one of my favorites on the record.
- HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T: This complicated song takes frustrated vocals and pairs it with light, carefree whistling, creating a tonally trippy paradox. This song finds our narrator at a crossroads in his relationship, needing it to either become serious or end. It’s an ultimatum, one that clearly prefers the former. It paints a great visual with the line, “And when your stitch comes loose/I want to sleep on every piece of fuzz and stuffing that comes out of you.” He’s begging his partner to let him in and let him love all their parts, even the ugly ones. According to Pete Wentz, this song was built off of Patrick’s absentminded humming and this really works with the wonky, off-kilter tone. It’s another favorite.
- The Last of the Real Ones: This track is like a love song in a kaleidoscope and a shout in a tunnel. It’s dizzy and grimy, but also a desperate declaration of undying love. This is a love song that feels like falling from outer space, a collapse you can’t help but feel grateful for. It’s also about loving someone because of their flaws, rather than in spite of them. It has the exact kind of quirky lyrics you expect in a Fall Out Boy song, like “I wonder if your therapist knows everything about me.” It’s feeling like a wide-eyed kid and a jaded adult at the same time, a jarring yet apt paradox. Even the piano sounds just a little off, like you’re about to fall off a precipice and into a psychedelic abyss. It’s easily another favorite and a song that was absolutely worth pushing the album back for.
- Wilson (Expensive Mistakes): On the opposite end of songs like “Champion” and “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” this track is the anthem of self-loathing. It embraces the Millennial concept of meme-ing your depression, making hyperbolic statements to mask real pain. But, underneath all that, it’s a song about missing someone. Patrick’s voice is stratospheric, belting out soulfully. My only gripe with the song is the line, “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color.” An Addams Family reference, it feels a little too Hot Topic for my taste. But that doesn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the song. In fact, it’s another favorite.
- Church: In my oh-so-humble opinion, this song alone was enough to justify pushing back the album four months. This song is dark, the church choir creating an ominous feel. Samples of pipe organ and church bells add to the haunting environment, the band clearly taking a page from Hozier’s book of Dark Love Songs with Catholic Imagery. It’s larger-than-life, yet intimidating. It’s heavy and desperate, a worship song if there ever was one. Not only do I love this track, it’s my favorite on the album.
- Heaven’s Gate: This song continues the motif from “Church,” but slows it down. What sounds like a sad plea to the narrator’s lover to let him join them in heaven is really just a plea to let him bask in their glory. It’s about being so in love with someone, but feeling unworthy. It’s the closest to a ballad this album has, Patrick’s voice a soulful croon. Once again, it’s got those quirky Fall Out Boy lyrics, Patrick asking, “If I don’t make it on the list/Would you sneak me a wristband.” It’s one of their softest, despite being kind of sad. The whole thing is topped off by the near a capella opening, dropping immediately into R&B goodness. Due to this, it’s another favorite.
- Sunshine Riptide (feat. Burna Boy): Lyrically, this is Fall Out Boy’s most Fall Out Boy song in a while. It’s a very complicated song, one that means many things at the same time. It’s a love song and a hate song, a celebration and an explanation. The narrator is refusing to give up and giving up simultaneously. The production tries to trick you into thinking it’s happy and tropical (as does the inclusion of Burna Boy), but the lyrics won’t let you. Among the excellent lyrics are “I don’t even have my own attention” and “There are no atheists in foxholes.” It’s a song I didn’t love until I looked up the lyrics and realized just how complex and twisted it is. Now, it’s another favorite.
- Bishops Knife Trick: Though the title of this song is an Aliens reference, the song isn’t a science fiction revel. It’s a journey of self-reflection, Patrick remarking, “I got a feeling inside I can’t domesticate./It doesn’t want to live in a cage,/A feeling I can’t housebreak.” The narrator wants to let go of the darkness inside himself, to unleash it so he can be through with it once and for all. However, it’s difficult because he’s still so stuck on the past. It’s an apt album closer, recounting the journey we just went on and acknowledging that it all still feels futile even if we’re ready to move on.
M A N I A is a divisive album that is going to split the Fall Out Boy fanbase for good. While I don’t love it, I do still enjoy it. However, I do hope they return at least somewhat to their roots on album eight. I want them to put the rock back into alternative. But, musically pleasing or no, this album is one I’ve already formed an emotional connection to— one that I’ll be riding the highs and lows of for a long time to come.