There’s something to be said for the ability to come full circle to where it all began. Fall Out Boy have returned with their eighth studio album, So Much (for) Stardust, on the label that started the entire hype train, Fueled By Ramen. From being the band that arguably got their biggest break from a “You Hear It First” MTV vignette that showcased the band’s raucous live shows and built up the anticipation for their Take This To Your Grave album. The rest was history, as the band would reach atmospheric success on their major label debut From Under The Cork Tree, which would go on to sell over two million copies in the U.S. alone. The funny thing about the “reinvention years,” or the post-hiatus albums that came after Folie à Deux, is that this new record is the perfect balance between the two “versions” of Fall Out Boy. It has the charm of the early albums, paired with the studio experimentation of the post-hiatus LPs, all honed into a crisp delivery courtesy of veteran producer Neal Avron. From the homage of getting their “elder-emo status” on the music video for “Love From The Other Side,” to the most recent single being the most logical progression from “This Ain’t A Scene…” to now. So Much (for) Stardust achieves the near-impossible: it satisfies both longtime fans and FOB-newbies into a crowd-pleasing package of songs that tug on the heartstrings of emo kids everywhere.
The album is front-loaded with the first three singles to be released from the set, and “Love From The Other Side” is a bulletproof introduction to the sound that Fall Out Boy went for here. From the eery piano opening, paired with the sweeping orchestra that bleeds into the first heavy guitar riff from Joe Trohman, the band signifies their return in thrilling fashion. The song sounds a bit like if My Chemical Romance took a stab at the pop-punk genre, and it hits its intended target. I found the second verse of, “Generation sleep I’m falling in and out of love / I’m getting that tilted feeling out here / What would you trade the pain for? / I’m not sure / Nowhere left for us to go but Heaven / Summer falling through our fingers again and / You were the sunshine of my lifetime / What would you trade the pain for?” to be well-orchestrated by lead vocalist Patrick Stump, as each of his vocals reverberates into the heavens off of Pete Wentz’s bass. Andy Hurley’s drum fill in the bridge is a thing of beauty too as he showcases his brilliant percussion.
Not to be outdone, the heavy synths in the opening of “Heartbreak Feels So Good” highlight a band willing to grow with their sound gracefully. The chorus of, “We could cry a little, cry a lot / But don’t stop dancing, don’t dare stop / We’ll cry later or cry now / You know it’s heartbreak / We could dance our tears away / Emancipate ourselves / We’ll cry later or cry now, but baby / Heartbreak feels so good (No, oh, no) / Heartbreak feels so good (No, oh, no, oh),” finds Stump targeting the right balance of falsetto as his bandmates rally around each lyric like a war cry. “Hold Me Like A Grudge” does sound like the logical next step from Infinity on High’s “This Ain’t A Scene” with its great bass line from Went that lays down a simple beat for fans to nod along to. It’s a great-sounding rock song that fills the void from what Mania was lacking at times, and I’m so glad that Fall Out Boy so blissfully embraced this direction here.
The middle section of the record is filled with sturdy experimentation, from the lofty, mid-tempo ballad of “Fake Out” that is followed by the equally thrilling “Heaven, Iowa.” On the latter, it sounds like Fall Out Boy embracing some 80’s new wave artists like Tears For Fears and A Flock Of Seagulls, with a chorus that simply must be heard to be believed. The dancehall beats of “So Good Right Now” is a perfect, 50s/60s doo-wop track that would make early Weezer insanely jealous that they didn’t think of this mix first. It sounds like a throwback sound, yet Fall Out Boy’s modern twist in the bridge are sure to leave even the most curmudgeonly pessimistic listener with a smile on their face by the time they reach the dramatic conclusion of the song.
”The Pink Seashell” features a spoken word by Ethan Hawke from the film Reality Bites, that is paired with some anthemic synths and horns in the background to prepare the listener for the back half of this thrilling album. “I Am My Own Muse” begins with the sweeping orchestra paired with bombastic expectations that fits somewhere between Panic! At The Disco-themed show-tunes with Fall Out Boy’s charm that they perfected on Infinity on High. “Flu Game” bounces along with veteran poise and features a breakneck chorus of, “Last night I dreamt I still knew you / You / I carved out a place in this world for two / But it’s empty without you.” All of this mixed with a manic second verse with cartoon-themed “na na na’s” between Stump’s vocals keep the interest high in the album.
The record never loses its early momentum with the closing elements found on “The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)” that rocks along in the intro like a Savage Garden song, before embracing the rock elements with Trohman’s guitar wailing above the mix to remind longtime fans why they stuck with Fall Out Boy for so long. The feel good anthem of “What A Time To Be Alive” again finds FOB embracing their Motown love, all put on a pop spin cycle to leave the audience with a better outlook on life than they started with. By the time you’ve reached the dramatic conclusion of the title track, you’re probably wondering just how this pop-punk band that started with the simplest of intentions to make albums that they loved became one of the biggest acts in rock music. So Much (For) Stardust seems like this year’s best kept secret, and quite possibly an early name to throw in the hat for consideration of Album of the Year. I don’t know how they did it, but Fall Out Boy have left my jaw on the floor with this incredible return to form found on their eight studio LP.