Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (2013)


In order to keep up with the ever-growing field of published music, Riff N' Ralk, Music Tock has expanded to the printed word to review music. Want Alex, Ryan, or Corey to write a lengthy, well-thought-out essay about your favorite albums? Leave a comment below, or write on our Facebook wall and we will give it a fair shot!

By: Corey Deiterman


Or:  How Fall Out Boy's New Record Turned Me from a Hater Into a Bonafide Fan




This review requires a little bit of background, so let's jump in the way-back machine to when Fall Out Boy was last a relevant band and recount Corey's admittedly vague memories of that time period.

You know that exhilarating feeling you get when you drive for the first time? Well, if any of you kids who might be reading this don't know it, savor it and store it away in your mind. I know I did, and it's still a potent memory to this day. I remember being behind the wheel, navigating a two ton vehicle for the first time, and hearing Temple of the Dog's “Hunger Strike,” an excellent song and one of my favorites, especially at the time. A few times after that first time, and driving still feels new enough to you that it hasn't lost its gravitas yet. In that vague period, where I was still getting used to driving, I remember my driving instructor put on the radio and I heard a lot of pop hits that I had generally avoided, being a music snob if there ever was one.

What do you suppose I heard? Well, if you're not old enough to drive, you probably don't remember when this was on the radio, but I heard Kanye West's “Stronger,” another favorite, and “I'm Like a Lawyer With the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off” by Fall Out Boy. Even then, I had to admit I liked Kanye. At that point, Kanye West still had indie cred. Yes, that Kanye West had indie cred. Even though he was all over the radio, he was regarded quite well as the bastion of anti-money-drugs-and-killing rap. He was the antithesis of all we snobs hated about rap, singing about, you know, emotions and stuff like that. We loved it. Plus, he was sampling Daft Punk, coolest of all cools. Come on, now.

As for Fall Out Boy, well, let's just say hate was not the word to describe what I was feeling. I couldn't understand what my driving instructor could want to listen to that for, though turning it over to Sunny 99.1's all-Christmas-songs-all-month playlist afterward wasn't much better. I wanted out of the car at that moment, and if it wouldn't have resulted in the deaths of others, I would have just opened the door and bailed. Cause fuck Fall Out Boy.

Fall Out Boy represented everything that was not legitimate in music. They were a pop rock band masquerading as punk, they were fashioncore as all hell (if anyone remembers that term), they were international celebrities while claiming to be part of the “underground,” Patrick Stump sang like Michael Jackson rather than screaming, and Pete Wentz was dating supermodels while writing lyrics about being a loser who couldn't get a girl to look at him. It was so fucking fake, and I hated them for that.

I liked bands like Brand New and At the Drive-In. Brand New covered my emotional needs, and you'd never catch Jesse Lacey with a supermodel. At the Drive-In did it for my intellectual needs, with hardcore riffs underneath lyrics that I could spend my whole life trying to decipher and make very little headway. Point is, Fall Out Boy was everything that was wrong with emo and they could go die, thank you.

Well, time went on and I got my first job, another new exciting experience. Lo and behold, Fall Out Boy was there too. The fuckers were everywhere back in those days. You couldn't escape them. So I got a job working at a movie theater. My first Fall Out Boy anecdote there is that I immediately wanted to make friends with other music snobs. I ended up falling in with the metal crowd, cause who are more of music snobs than metal fans? But in the course of that, I ended up having a very enlightening discussion with someone named Timmy (I don't remember his last name) about how he loved screamo, you know, like Fall Out Boy.

That still makes me laugh. Wherever you are, Timmy, I hope you've heard Save Rock and Roll. But we'll get to that, I promise. More about me. The other major Fall Out Boy related thing that happened at the theater is a little movie called Sex Drive was released. If you don't remember it, don't bother looking it up. It sucked. All I remember about it is a guy in a taco costume getting punched in the balls or some such thing. Sounds hilarious right? Anyway, the movie was some kind of promotional tie-in with Fall Out Boy's then-current album Folie a Deux, and it had the lead single in its closing credits, “I Don't Care.”

I don't know if you've ever paid attention when you're leaving a movie, but there's some dorky looking kids standing around like idiots while you're on your way out. Those kids have to go clean up all the bullshit you left laying around in the aisles. All that popcorn you spilled, the drink you threw at the screen, the seat you had for your kid that you conveniently left in the regular seat instead of putting it back where you got it, all that; somebody has to clean that shit. That's what those dorky kids are thee for, and they're on their way in immediately after you leave, right as the credits start, because they've got other theaters “breaking” in just a few minutes.

The job sucks. It's even worse when there's an annoying credits sequence you have to hear every single fucking time you clean the theater. I cannot express to you how awful that Hans Zimmer theme to the Dark Knight gets after you've heard it a hundred times. But you know what? Sex Drive was my favorite movie to clean up, when it was in theaters, because it had “I Don't Care” by Fall Out Boy at the end of it and I didn't care what anybody thought, I loved that song.

It fixed everything that was wrong with Fall Out Boy. It rocked unabashedly, it was clearly pop with none of their bullshit attempts at punk, and it had an excellent hook, just like a pop song should have. Of course, Folie a Deux ended up being the least popular Fall Out Boy album up to that time, and who could blame their fans? After all, their favorite band was dropping the pretense of being underground or legitimate and embracing their status as pop rock icons.

Well, the negative feedback and internal tensions ended up striking down the band right in the middle of their prime and they went on hiatus the following year, right up until the beginning of this year. In the meantime, Patrick Stump, vocalist and reformed fat guy, and Pete Wentz, bassist and douchebag lyricist, tried a bunch of middling solo projects that went to nowhere, Wentz married Ashlee Simpson and divorced Ashlee Simpson, and the other guys did real punk for a while before they got bored of it.

It was time for the guys to get the old band back together, and here we are: 2013. All these years later, we have a new Fall Out Boy album and a new sound for the group of faux-punks from Illinois. Oh, and what a sound it is.

Save Rock and Roll no more saves rock and roll than it invents it. It doesn't even play rock and roll, for that matter. It's a pop album. It's not just a pop album, either. It's a pop album featuring guest appearances from GOOD Music artist Big Sean (one of Kanye's horrible signings), Courtney Love, and Elton John. It's a pop album that opens with a song that doesn't feature any guitars for half the song. It's a pop album that openly bites pop hooks of the last couple of years from Adele, TI, Rihanna, and others.

And you know what? Fuck it, none of that matters. I love it.

I'll tell you why. This thing bursts right out of the gate, stating all its intentions immediately. “The Phoenix,” the second single and the first track of the record, explodes onto the scene with a driving beat and strings bitten from a lost James Bond theme from the '70s. It kicks some major ass, as Patrick Stump debuts his “non-fat” vocal range in the Fall Out Boy context and just unleashes some hell we haven't heard this side of “Beat It.” We didn't even hear him singing like this when Fall Out Boy covered “Beat It!”

Oh, the lyrics are still crap. You can thank Wentz for that. “I'm gonna change you like a remix, than I'll raise you like a phoenix?” It doesn't get any better from that mind-bogglingly bad chorus. The funny thing is, Stump sells it with such conviction it doesn't matter. He's the real star of this record. The rest of the guys could be session players, but Stump owns this thing with vocal acrobatics worthy of fucking Prince.

Stump is hungry. If you all will recall, he wrote a very whiny blog post just over a year ago about how he was quitting music cause nobody liked his solo albums and said they liked him better when he was fat. So if anybody is invested in this reunion for anything other than cash, it's Stump. For god knows what fucking reason, Stump wants artistic credibility, or as much as a pop star can have, and he's going to get it, goddamn it.

He immediately comes on and tears this record up. If I might say, I think Stump's vocal delivery might be my favorite thing on here. He even manages to rescue a cliched, Maroon 5-esque ballad like “Alone Together” from the depths with the power of his voice.

This might well be a solo record. Certainly the songs fit more with Stump's solo record than they do anything Fall Out Boy has recorded or any of the other members' individual projects. They're pure pop. They reflect everything good and bad about the last decade of pop music that we all love to hate. The band has made a conglomeration of all of that, but what's more, they've managed to make even the most tepid combinations good through sheer force of will.

Take “The Mighty Fall” for instance. There is absolutely no reason this song should not be garbage and a blight upon humanity. Big Sean is a horrible rapper, his verse here is terrible, and the beat is some weird psuedo-hip-hop thing, as if somebody from outer space heard a pop song of the 2000's and tried to imitate it with no knowledge of how to go about doing so.

Nevertheless, Stump kills it throughout and the band pushes it so hard that you can't help but enjoy the fucking thing despite yourself. It's a failure, much like Fall Out Boy's career has been, but it's an endearing failure, the big difference between this record and their previous run.

The big difference is that they've stopped being phony. By embracing the inherently phony world of pop, they've embraced who they truly are and always have been. They're a more talented version of Maroon 5 or any other pop rock band that kids like. They're all capable of excelling at their instruments, but that's not the goal of their band. That's what their side-projects are for. But Fall Out Boy is a pop band, and now that Fall Out Boy understands that, they know how to proceed with making good pop music.

There's no depth here. It's all vapid as fuck. But they're so good at producing songs like these that almost every song on this record is a catchy hit that reels you in no matter how much you wish you could fight it. When Stump screams “I wanna see your animal side, let it all out” over the opening acoustic guitar riff of “Death Valley,” you know you've already been sucked in. You want to say you hate this song, but you already love it.

That's the brilliance of pop, but what always held me back from enjoying Fall Out Boy's pop works before is that they were liars. They weren't even good liars at that. They sat there and tried to tell me they were influenced by the Stooges and the Clash and Black Flag, but they were making music that sounded less like Blink-182 and more like Justin Timberlake.

Now that they're just honest and open, I feel like it's a period of reconciliation. I can mend bridges with this Fall Out Boy, even love this Fall Out Boy, just as long as they never lie to me about being punk again. As long as they're open about what they are (a really, really good, slick pop band), I'll be open about what I am (an unabashed lover of vapid, catchy pop music).

And at the end of day, isn't honesty the best policy? Isn't this better for all parties involved? After all, thanks to young children who don't even remember when Fall Out Boy was originally a band, and old fucks like myself, they've hit number one again and have sold out a reunion tour which I will probably be attending in some capacity. Isn't that what this is all about: selling concert tickets and records?

Good job, Fall Out Boy. Congratulations on embracing your inner cynic and selling out to every desire you've ever had to be as simultaneously disposable and irresistible as Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and the rest of the cast of the Voice. I will see you guys in September, against everything I've ever stood for. As long as we're all agreed we're huge hypocrites and, well, we don't care what people think, as long as it's about us.