This review was written in 2013 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
I believe that each time we select an album out of the ether and push play, it says something not just to us, but about us. It becomes a reflection of that instant and transcends into both a personal and social entity simultaneously. It is this duality of frozen moments, between headphones and shared experiences, that helps define why we listen. We listen to be touched. We find comfort in intimate moments alone with songs, and we tie memories with the best of friends to the soundtracks of our nights. The songs that have stayed with me the longest are the ones that exist forever between these two realities: the ones that I suffer with and the ones that I share.
For many of us, Fall Out Boy has been a band we’ve repeatedly picked to allay this particular itch. The band that could pluck emotions from our skin on a cold walk alone in the city, and the band that could illuminate time spent with our closest friends. They’ve been a band that’s easy to love. They began as a scrappy garage band from Chicago playing a mix of Midtown and Saves the Day inspired pop-punk with a soulful singer and a sharp tongued bassist. Then they took over the world and their coronation was blogged while their style was posterized and copied. They’ve also been difficult to love. Fall Out Boy became a staple of a tabloid-obsessed world, and every move they made or song they wrote was forever compared to their past work. The band had the adoration of their fans, yet they faced their wrath with each album that moved further and further away from their pop-punk roots. The band’s time in the limelight reached its crescendo with the release of Folie à Deux, an album that was originally met with criticism and has only recently found a loyal following amongst fans as they’ve aged.
Content with their swan song — the band stepped away.
Then came the side projects, and while the ingredients were close, none were able to capture the same lightning in a bottle. Time passed, and we grew closer to the tenth anniversary of one of their most-loved albums, the canonical debut, Take This To Your Grave. The easy road would have been to reunite for a 10-year full-album tour, maybe toss together some new pop-punk songs with a greatest hits package — and call it a payday. But instead of looking backwards, the band reconvened and doubled down on the direction they’d been traveling since they first walked from “Dance, Dance” to “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” to “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet” to “Alpha Dog.” The result is the most actualized version of Fall Out Boy we’ve ever heard, an undeniable portrait of who Fall Out Boy is today, in 2013. And if the title of the opening track — “The Phoenix” — isn’t enough to let you know they’ve burned the past and begun again, soon, the music will too.
Save Rock and Roll is a sonic tour-de-force. With Butch Walker at the helm, lush instrumentation waxes between electronic and organic while mimicking the best of Kanye West’s layered production revolution. These songs sound massive and theatrical, with hints of dark 80’s pop, hip-hop, and the King of Pop himself. Patrick’s vocals find a confidence and control previously unseen. Specifically, the articulation of words and his enunciation has dramatically improved — the days of ‘misheard lyrics’ are largely behind us. “Death Valley” feels like the apex of everything the band’s been reaching for since Infinity on High, starting with a driving drumbeat and strumming guitar, it features Patrick as he belts, “I want to see your animal side” before pulling off a pure falsetto chorus. “Rat a Tat” has Courtney Love speed-talking a monologue intro before it morphs into probably the closest thing we see to the band’s previous material. The chorus is straight up Folie à Deux with Patrick’s doubling of phrases and colored vibrato. “Alone Together” carries an anthemic chorus over drum loops, and when Patrick wails, “my heart is like a stallion, they love it more when it’s broken,” the line carries with it the same knowing smirk as when he opened an album with “so long live the car crash hearts.”
Where the album struggles is under the weight of its own ambition. There are moments where too much is going on in a song, and a guest spot or unique sonic patch often feels forced instead of natural. In “The Mighty Fall,” we find a stacked chaotic beat interjected with staccato vocals — the result is jarring. The inclusion of Big Sean doesn’t enhance the track, and that by itself is evidence against it. In “Young Volcanoes” there’s a lyric that feels completely out of place (“make boys next door out of assholes”), and even though it’s delivered tongue in cheek — as we hear an audible chuckle after it — it pulls the listener out of an otherwise engaging song. On the other hand, the album’s fearlessness also leads to some of the best moments in Fall Out Boy’s career. While the opening song references a “remix,” the closing title track takes it literally, with a haunting “until your breathing stops forever, forever” coda that swings underneath the best album finale — and one of the best songs — the band has ever written. Elton John’s appearance on the song comes in the form of vocals, pulled off masterfully; his second verse and delivery are the highlight on an already noteworthy and memorable performance.
The lyrics, as a whole, are vintage Pete Wentz. That means you get the relatable and quotable moments, but also the ones that leave you scratching your head. “Where Did The Party Go?” is where Wentz gets a little heavy-handed, but how do you fit the word “back-rub” into a song anyway? That song has one of the most ridiculously catchy choruses on the disc, yet it’s probably the only one I find myself not completely interested in. It’s there, it would probably do well remixed for a club, but it feels like filler the moment “Just One Yesterday” begins. That track rolls at a mid-tempo, with Patrick singing in his lower register and Louisa Rose Allen (Foxes) channeling a young Stevie Nicks. When listeners hear these two tracks back to back, subsequent plays may leave them waiting for the former to finish simply so the latter can begin.
Elvis Presley was once quoted as saying, “Rock and Roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it.” And while the internet will be plastered with reviews of this record taking issue with the band releasing an album that has the audacity to call itself Save Rock And Roll, the King already described every listen I’ve had with this album. I’ve worn out the soles in my shoes from tapping my foot so damn hard.
When I was 18, I fell asleep wishing she’d choked and crashed her car: I found solace in songs that let me know I was not alone in my heartbreak. Now I’ve grown. I’m no longer the boy I once was. I loved. I lost. I’m now a man that understands that the person you’d take a bullet for is sometimes the one behind the trigger. And as I’ve changed, Fall Out Boy has changed. Just as when I look in a mirror I don’t long for my yesterday, now when the needle hits the record I don’t pine for a memory. Today, this is Fall Out Boy at their grandest, and these are the songs that will live within a space of reflective solitude or be shouted amongst friends along a stretch of forgotten highway. When I was younger, this is the kind of album that wouldn’t have been for me — I saw pop and gloss as four letter words. Back then I wanted grungy guitars and the forbidden beat, but here at 30 I’ve grown to love the grandiose production, these layered synths, and the punchy aesthetic. Each time we select an album and push play, we hope that the music says something to us — that it speaks, and that while we’re lost within the songs another voice becomes our own. And when we go back to the well, it’s with the knowledge that each selection says something about us — about who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. Save Rock And Roll is an album that fulfills this promise and one that resonates and screams of a band actualized within its own identity even while the listener searches for his or her own. And I know that I’ll reach for this album countless times over the years — aware of what it says to me, and forever unafraid of what it says about me.