To certain ardent fans, Fall Out Boy is more than just another band—it’s a member of the “Emo Trinity” (alongside Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance, of course). The title is grandiose, but not without good reason. Hits like “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and comeback track “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” made huge impacts on pop charts, solidifying Fall Out Boy’s reputation as a household name. Now, the band is back with seventh album M A N I A, whose stylized title attempts to keep up its larger-than-life image. Just like previous albums, it’s chiefly fun, fast fare.
On their previous album American Beauty/American Psycho, Fall Out Boy more or less stuck to its tried-and-true pop punk format. Sure, its song titles were a lot shorter than the ones on earlier releases, but that wasn’t a big deal; it still largely relied on the power of guitars to propel each song forward. Here, the guys experiment a little more, dabbling with a variety of genres.
This is most evident in “Young and Menace,” their edgily-named lead single. When it was first released, the EDM-influenced track was admittedly jarring. The dramatic buildup to the dubstep breakdown was well-executed, but still… it was a dramatic buildup to a dubstep breakdown, something you’d never expect from the band that made “Thnks fr th Mmrs.” With the lens of time, it’s easier to appreciate the song. Charged with electric suspense, it would fit perfectly in a trailer for an action film.
“Hold Me Tight Or Don’t” is another surprising gem. An upbeat, tropical-sounding dance track, it’s definitely somewhere the band hasn’t gone before, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s the kind of song that makes you wonder, “Why wasn’t this a summer release?” With its whistling hook and steady percussion, punctuated by Patrick Stump’s ever-powerful vocals, it would be perfect for drives around town on hot nights. Though it might not contain as many lyrical marvels as some of the other tracks, it’s definitely still noteworthy.
Another relatively new trick in the Fall Out Boy book is presented in “Sunshine Riptide,” which features Nigerian dancehall singer Burna Boy. Fall Out Boy is no stranger to featured artists—in fact, it made an entire remix album of American Beauty/American Psycho based on the concept. Still, it’s a deviation from their norm, and one that they can make work.
Though Fall Out Boy is best known for making frenetic, high-energy music like the tracks mentioned above, it’s also skilled at creating slow jams. The notable one on this album is “Heaven’s Gate.” Within the first few seconds, Stump has shown off the strength and range of his voice, which can reach impressive heights. Then the piano kicks in and the song sets into an easy, rollicking rhythm that channels the ballads of the early 20th century. When the guitars emerge, the melody sounds even sweeter.
Of course, a Fall Out Boy album wouldn’t be a Fall Out Boy album without a few highly specific, unconventional metaphors. “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” the very first track, serves up a couple of good ones right away—“I’m about to go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee” and “Some princes don’t become kings.” “The Last of the Real Ones” has some more food for thought—“Gold plated/but what’s inside you?” Overall, the lyrics are more generic and repetitive than is usual for Fall Out Boy, which is surprising, given that American Beauty/American Psycho was so packed with explosive language. Still, a few memorable lines show that the band can hit hard when it’s playing the right cards.
All in all, M A N I A is a welcome expansion of Fall Out Boy’s arsenal of songs about the vicissitudes of life and love. The guys may not be the same young menaces they were when they started out, but they’re still the kind of band that can make Addams Family references, sample The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” (in “Wilson”) and channel Frank Sinatra on the same album, which says a lot about why they’ve stuck around for so long.