On their seventh full-length offering, Wilmette, Illinois’ power-pop phenomenon Fall Out Boy struggle to camouflage a lack of inspiration with songs that are not quite songs, but rather want very badly to be. Not that Fall Out Boy should follow suit, but after listening to Mania it becomes apparent why fellow master pop-craftsmen The Police quit Mount Olympus while they were still gods. Mania is a case of trying too hard. Missing are the immemorial FOB melodies of old, the impossibly catchy hook repetitions and uncompromising dedication to variety within a flawless pop structure that FOB fan and Queen guitarist Brian May also strived for. Fall Out Boy’s songs, at least for now, no longer ring with the symmetry of sonnets or the poignancy of psalms.
On Mania, sadly, we find none of the former soaring artistry, rivaled perhaps only by that of Elton John or Georgie Michael. Sorely missed are those swinging-for-the-fences vocals of the pop behemoth’s global smashes like Coffee is for Closers or Dane, Dance. Gone are the hooks that pushed Ur singer Patrick Stump’s irresistible first tenor to those certain heights of aesthetic bliss achieved only when tune and lyric enjoy a perfect marriage.
Mania is a mishmash of sonic gadgetry and over-blown production. A hysterical attempt to polish a batch of turds that begs the question the band had been all but asking themselves in the press only days before Mania’s initial release drop date. Why make music at all if it’s going to be this bad? And yet, as a rabid FOB fan, I beg them to remember that they will in almost all certainty become inspired again.The trick is not to push it. The trick is to live. And FOB knew this.
Bassist Pete Wentz has since admitted that in recording Mania, the band went against the collective better judgment on which they’d previously relied. The same shared musical astuteness that propelled them into the pop-rock stratosphere along with Queen, Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and The Cars. Wentz described the aesthetic vision behind Mania thusly: “It feels like every once in a while, you’ve gotta do a hard restart that clears the cache and erases the hard drive. I think that’s what [Mania] was – a big palette cleanse.”
On August 3, 2017, singer Patrick Stump announced on Twitter that the record would be pushed back until January 19, 2018. “The album,” confided the cherubic frontman, “just really isn’t ready, and it felt very rushed. I’m never going to put a record out I genuinely don’t believe is at least as strong or valid as the one that came before it, and in order to do that we need a little bit more time to properly and carefully record solid performances.”
And yet no such performances appear on this discordant disappointment. Opening track Young and Menace wretchedly establishes the album’s overall sense of forcing the issue with the same technique of Auto-tune-bending vocal-notes that Cher made famous decades ago. Here we find none of the buoyant ironies that transmogrified the Midwestern sextet from cult-pop icons to overnight mainstream superstars with the 2005 arrival of their addictive breakthrough single Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down. Gone are the by turns clever and heartrending lyrics, the Victorian word-play and limber vocalese that heralded the advent of a band who seemed poised to usurp the throne of Queen.13 years later, in part because Mania debuted at number one on the Billboard, FOB still remain at the somewhat inflated position at the top of their genre, the only actual rock outfit to perform on last winter’s Jingle Ball circuit alongside megastar Taylor Swift and up-and-comer Camila Cabello.
The prodigiously talented troupe of punk-rock-bred youths who boldly (and deservedly) entitled their 2013 album Save Rock and Roll, now only seem to imitate the latest EDM trends. One would think it better not to release any music at all than to deliver such an embarrassing batch of nonentities. To be frank, and I tried to find them, but redeeming moments are hard to come by on this tedious affair. The electro-synth bombast that characterizes the first half of this album dwindles into watered-down sugar-pop a far cry from the exquisite song-craftsmanship of their still-vibrant coevals Maroon 5.
Stump now sounds tormented, frustrated, straining. The guitars try to be aggressive, but any such snarl is diluted by syrupy overproduction. The song Champion displays the cheesy backbeat of music better suited to prompt an aerobics class. Even more pathetic are the guitar-less tunes, as evidenced by the lackluster trop-house endeavor Hold Me Tight Or Don’t. Alas, don’t.
And where the Fall Out Boy of old merged earworm melodies with word-playful lyrics redolent of the first five records by tunesmith Elvis Costello, Mania finds them flailing on both fronts. The vinyl is replete with failed bids at Oscar Wildish wit (“I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” on Wilson (Expensive Mistakes), to ham-fisted repartee like “Are you smelling that (expletive) / Ode de resistance” on the inexplicably-titled Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea. And yet the flavor they’ve arrived at signals the doldrums of a band who, if they are kind and patient with themselves and refuse to be rushed by their record company in the future, are destined for The Music Hall of Fame.