Back in 2005, when Fall Out Boy’s (FOB) “From Under The Cork Tree” was released, a spark was ignited in a 13 year old me, starting an unhealthy obsession with one of the first artists that weren’t something that my parents listened to (which pretty much made me The Fonz in my eyes). Fall Out Boy helped to properly kick start my love of music and helped to send me off into the wide and exciting world of music and to begin sculpting my own tastes and building on ones previously established by my parents. For this reason, FOB hold a very special place with me. I loved each album more than the last even though with each release, they began to gain a reputation of selling out, but gradually fans would learn to love their new sound. This peaked around the 2008 release of “Folie à Deux” (reviews here and here), where the style and sound is incredibly different to the their first album “Take this To Your Grave”. This album, like the rest, was eventually appreciated and praised for it’s unique qualities and brilliance (review here).
Late 2009 to early 2010 saw a difficult time for a now 17 year old me. Fall Out Boy announced a hiatus, which to be honest, broke my heart down the middle. Even though I was much older and had been involved in many musical affairs behind FOB’s back, I was still crushed that my first love had called it a day. But life goes on….
2013 came around and Fall Out Boy were still a passion of mine, but more like something used to fill a gap than a passion. I wasn’t on top of what was going on with them at the time, and then out of no where, “Save Rock And Roll” was mere months from release and the 13 year old in me came rushing back to slap me in my pretentious music student, 20 year old face and I instantly reverted back to being uncontrollably excited again.
This short history lesson leads us into this review. Save Rock And Roll was a difficult album for me as at first as I was pretty disappointed. I’d finally crossed over to the side of thinking that Fall Out Boy had taken that one step too far and changed too much, I couldn’t help but think back to previous albums and how different it was and how much they had changed.
However, a little while after I had made my mind up on Save Rock And Roll, I listened through it again and had a total change of heart. This change of heart is what I will be focussing on, not my first impression.
One of the main things I believe Fall Out Boy are trying to achieve with this album is to show that these once punk/pop-rock kings are back and taking risks again which is dramatically presented with the opening of the album. “The Phoenix” is the appropriately titled opening track and really grabs the listener and lets you know what is going to be happening with this album. The strong and prominent string section plays the whole piece in with ferocious power backed up by Patrick Stumps equally powerful vocals as he shouts “Put on your war paint!” which is unlike any other Fall out Boy song to begin with.
The decision to make this track lead the album was a very clever choice. It may seem obvious with a title like “The Phoenix” to put it at the start, but its not just about what the title represents here. If the album had started with tracks like “Where did the party go” or “Death Valley”, the initial feel would be completely different to what is given off with Phoenix. These two tracks (Death Valley and only the opening to Party really) are arguably the most punk rock tracks on the album and the openings of each start with quite punk techniques, such as a fuzzy bass line and kick drum in Party and an all-at-once, quite heavy start with Death Valley. If either of these two were used as an opening track, the listener would’ve been tricked into thinking that FOB were still, in the grand scheme, a punk band and would’ve eventually been eased into the actual feel of the album as a whole. Where this may have been a good decision to keep fans and reviewers happy, opening with “The Phoenix” says more about the bands intentions with this album than any other track. With this track FOB are saying that they’re back, they’re taking risks and changing the scene up again and aren’t going to be stopped! This initial outburst is one of the most impressive things about this album in my eyes. It’s a statement to the music industry, especially the punk-rock one. FOB have been victims of being labelled as sell outs with almost every album they have released, even though these changes weren’t to drastic in the grand scheme of it. With this album they are bursting out of the gate and being proud of their new sound and using this new sound as a weapon against critics who are scared of change.
Save Rock And Roll still has the original FOB standard of catchy songs with great, sometimes edgy lyrics, except this time the songs are very varied which ensures that there will be something buried within the albums fantastic track list that everyone will enjoy.
After the explosive Phoenix opening, “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” keeps the momentum steam rolling through your ears and straight out of your mouth with anthemic chorus’ with the purpose of its creation being to gather a stadium of troops chanting along and screaming “I’m on fire” as the pounding beat gets everyone marching. The beat is solid and the gang vocals and claps make this song a perfect follow up to The Phoenix and help FOB show that to “Save Rock And Roll” (see what they did there?!) they can’t do it alone, they need an army, which is their fans screaming this anthem out, be it at FOB’s shows or in their bedrooms.
From here the album takes more of the poppier feeling that it has gained a reputation for. Tracks like “Alone Together”, “Where Did The Party Go” and “Miss Missing You” are the poppiest tracks on the album and some of my personal favourites (sorry hardcore Take This To Your Grave fans, I know that one hurt deep). These tracks are full of synth lines and effects, electronic drums to support and back up the acoustic kit, low in the mix guitars that play basic melodies and very catchy chorus’. These are practically Kryptonite to the average punk listener and will make them shrivel into a husk as they grip their Sex Pistols and Ramones records, but on Save Rock And Roll these factors are like rays of light from the sun (if we’re keeping the Superman metaphor going) and only make these tracks stronger.
Patrick Stump’s voice is as amazing as ever if not better. He still has his fantastic punk/pop-rock vocal style and can still hit an amazing range of notes and hold onto them for dear life which compliments the new dance/pop-rock direction. This surprisingly came across as a complaint in a review here! The lyrics are catchy and manage to stick in your head and keep you singing them long after you listen to the track like any good pop song but still have the same ingenious traits behind them like older FOB records. The lyrics are more than your average pop song of being straight froward which keeps the tracks interesting as you gradually learn more out about them, just like older FOB tracks. Admittedly, some of the lyrics do seem to fall flat here and there. For example, in where did the party go, some of the lyrics are very clever like “You and me are the difference between real love and the love on TV” but the main hook, “Whoa, where did the party go? We’re ending it on the phone I’m not gonna go home alone” isn’t very clever or even interesting for the average FOB song or even the average pop song. Some of the lyrics are pretty dull and seem like they have been written to get into the top 40 charts and to played in clubs which does come across pretty poorly in the wake of FOB’s previous great lyrical achievements e.g. “Is this more than you bargained for yet, Oh don’t mind me I’m watching you two from the closet, Wishing to be the friction in your jeans, Isn’t it messed up how I’m just dying to be him” from Sugar We’re Going Down. These lyrical slips only happen occasionally in the album though whereas the rest are pretty much your average FOB lyrical gold dust.
Instrumentally, Save Rock And Roll is an obvious change from previous albums without question. The same basic elements are present, such as guitars, bass and drums, except playing styles, arrangement and accompaniment have been slightly tweaked in ways which have created this more poppier, dancey and in some places, quiet epic and cinematic sound-scape.
Starting with the epic sound-scape, this is done like I previously spoke about with the Phoenix. The strong string sections manage to increase the power and ferocity where used and not once feel unnecessary or over done. Accompanied with rolling, overwhelming percussion and strong, firm and controlled guitar and bass lines, the cinematic feel is accomplished tremendously and makes these sections explode with an unrelenting power.
Moving onto the most controversial part of this album, the music itself. I’ve been avoiding this bit for the past 1652 words (I know you’ve been counting) to mainly try and keep the die hard fans away from me for as long as as this is probably the last nail in my coffin. Any way with my impending anger fuelled punk-rock end closing in, I greatly enjoy what Fall out Boy have done musically and instrumentally in this album.
The drums have been heavily compressed and effected to create a tight, sharp sound that cuts through the music. This technique is usually used with genres like metal where drum fills, double kick patterns and fills are a main driving force in the music, whereas here, this has been done to predominantly carry the beat of the tracks. Things like fills are still present and there are interesting drum parts throughout this album but, as a drummer, these parts don’t compare to previous parts. That’s not to say that these are bad parts they are just different. The fact that the drums are here to carry a beat and power the song helps the more dance music feel come through. In the epic, cinematic sections this also helps as pounding kick drums and tight, sharp toms enhance this. The drums are also backed up with electronic replacements in sections like chorus’ to further drive the beat of the tracks and really bring that dance feel out and help the main point of the instrument, support the beat and back up other instruments.
Punk-rock and pop-punk has always been about distorted guitars and bass playing memorable riffs, up beat fast solos and memorable breakdowns. This, however has changed with Save Rock And Roll. These three instruments have sadly been given a little bit of a back seat. In most songs on the album, the guitars mainly play simple melodies and riffs that are pretty low in the mix and are mainly there to emphasise the electronic synth lines that are more prominent now throughout. Here and there the guitars tend to slip through the cracks and show off what they are capable of, for example, in “The Mighty Fall”, the guitar is a main driving for of the track with a pretty killer riff that plays throughout and in “Young Volcanoes”, the track is lead by an acoustic guitar and accompanied by small amounts of percussion and gang vocals which gives the whole track a fantastic, anthemic feel. Guitars and bass are still involved and are still an important part of the overall product here, but they’ve sadly been held back a slight bit and have been drown out by the electronic synth lines instead, but when they shine through are fantastic, simple, effective and most importantly, memorable.
All that’s left to discuss is the quite wide selection of guest appearances in this album. The album is full of guests including Foxes on “Just One Yesterday”, Big Sean on “The Mighty Fall”, Courtney Love on “Rat A Tat” and Elton John on “Save Rock And Roll”. FOB have had guests on albums before and have always had quite a scope as well such as Brendon Urie and Little Wayne but never a scope as wide as this. Starting at the top, Foxes vocals work beautifully alongside Patrick’s in Yesterday. Her backing vocals in chorus’ and verse’s compliment the music and Patrick perfectly along with the call and response that take place between the two and her solo in the bridge gives the song that extra push and emotion it needs to make it a fantastic piece overall.
Big Sean’s appearance in Mighty Fall consists of a rap in the middle of a song which is very unusual for a FOB song but manages to work brilliantly with the track. Might Fall is quite a grimy and raw track so having him guest on it makes it just more of that.
Then we come to Courtney Love. She is a fantastic vocalists but feels wasted in this album. Courtney’s appearance sees her more fast talking than singing at the start of Rat A Tat which sounds rather poor in honesty. Opening with “It’s Courtney Bitch” doesn’t make it any better either. Courtney has a great voice and could’ve been used much more effectively in this track but, instead falls flat and easily becomes one of the worst parts of the album.
In Save Rock And Roll, Elton plays the piano part throughout the track, which is a beautiful and powerful melody but he also provides vocals. In the beginning just backing for chorus’ which are effective and work well. In the second verse Elton sings alongside Patrick and the both of them sound great together and separate, The real show begins in the bridge and last chorus however. Patrick and Elton just open up and show what this whole album has been leading up which is a triumphant, unrelenting, powerful and risk-taking album.
Fall Out Boy have taken a massive gamble with this album which hasn’t hit home with everyone, especially the fan’s reviews in this review. There’s no point in saying that they haven’t changed at all at this point. Go back and listen to “Dead On Arrival” and then listen to “Where Did The Party Go” and the evidence provides itself. The fact here is that Fall Out Boy are making a statement with this album. “Save Rock And Roll” isn’t just about Rock And Roll, it reaches to any genre of music and shows that to advance in music, risks have to be taken and artist have to change in order to advance music as a whole. Sure, artists will be accused of “selling out”, and some risks may not pay off, but these risks have to be made to push music forward and to strive for the next great artists. Fall Out Boy know this and know that they can’t do it alone, but they can start it and rally the troops at the same time.
FOB’s new direction is fresh and provides a completely new vibe and feel to the scene they have been kings of for many years. Their new sound is full of new and exciting traits that appeal to a whole new scope of fans, yet still has the fantastic trademark qualities that have made Fall Out Boy the rightful rulers of the pop-punk genre and will no doubt, lead them onwards into fresh and exciting new territories, all starting with the brilliant Save Rock And Roll.