“...Dreams again?” Let’s be honest, this Wonderful World called “POP” has been a duller place without Fall Out Boy. Throughout the Noughties they provided mucho “Pop Rocky” par excellence. That sparky, sparkly, sunny afternoon sound that flickers brightly in that sweet spot between sugar-rush playground pop and the bigger boys’ butch n’ beardy college rock. “Saturday”, “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down”, “Dance, Dance”, “This Ain’t A Scene”, “I Don’t Care”. All sassy n’ stellar supremo slices of “Pop Rocky”. But “NEW! Now with Improved wit!” Oh and ridiculously elaborate songtitles. Those videos too! Over amorous chimps! Tealeafin’ transvestite nuns! Curmudgeonly rednecks with Bambi legs! West Side Story with fangs! Talking dogs! Lead singers dressed as meat! What was not to like?? When they picked up their ball and went home in ‘09, hell, FOB darn well took a lil’ piece of our pop sunshine with ‘em too.
There were plentiful squeals of delirious delight then when they returned recently with the triumphant and reassuringly elaborately-titled “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)”. A full-on stadium slamdancer that felt like a three-minute high five from the sun itself. One hand-clappin’, foot stompin’, fist pumpin’, whip crackin’, rebel rousin’ barnstormer. It was futile to not be seduced by its “Whoooah Ohhh! I’m on FYYYAHHH!” joie de vivre and max-strength Duracell bunny power. “Burn everything you love! / Then burn the ashes” cackles Top Boy Patrick Stump, a twisted firestarter reborn. Here “Light ‘em Up” is preceded by the opulently grandiose and admirably bonkers introduction, “The Phoenix”. A “Storm the barricades, Comrades!” call to arms which morphs from savage, string-soaked, symphony to a “DEFCON 1 Disco” mirrorball-banger. “Put on your warpaint!” signals Che Guevara, sorry Stump, to his “Youngbloods”. As first strikes go, this pair are shooting from the hip, ‘Bonnie & fuckin’ Clyde’ cool.
The sense of urgency rarely lets up. Save Rock and Roll (ahem) is cap-doffingly ‘FULL ON’, rambunctiously ‘LOUD’ and “Subtlety” is clearly a dish not on today’s menu. On our “Pop Rocky” scale though it’s definitely more “POP” than “Rocky”, sometimes to its detriment. But “Alone Together” is one radio monster mash waiting for its number to be called and producer Butch Walker’s flips his “Bullet train through your speakers” stadia-pop knob to eleven. It’s Cassius Clay’s brand of “Punchy” even if it does admittedly sound ‘un petit peu’ like Maroon 5, albeit with steel balls. “We could stay young forever!” swings Stump, “Scream it from the top of your lungs!”.
After such a haymakin’ opening salvo the album does briefly wobble n’ spill the drinks. “Where Did The Party Go?” is a kissing cousin of “Dance Dance” reduxed with Bowie’s Let’s Dance-era white boy soul but feels slightly ‘cue-card’ clumsy and contains a mildly annoying “Na Na Na” catcall best kept in Kindergarten. Not terrible, not great. The duet with Foxes “Just One Yesterday” is a little bland n’ beige though. After hijacking Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” with a water pistol it soon descends into an overblown Meat Loafian ‘reflect n’ regret’ lovers’ spat. Later “Young Volcanoes” attempts a Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” “Altogether now” village folkfest singalong but it’s all slightly irksome and surely destined for a Nokia advert near you. Lots of beautiful, chiseled youth jumping into swimming pools fully clothed, etc. “We are wild!” it chants somewhat unconvincingly.
Thankfully though most of Save Rock and Roll is properly born to be “Wild” and, crucially, “Quite Marvellous” too. “The Mighty Fall” is possessed with one deliriously disturbed, Suspiria-witchy “LA LA LA” sample, a switchblade slicin’ rock riff, Stump at his most mischievous and some cocky holler n’ swagger from Big Sean. It’s a grindin’, ‘screw you’, sassy n’ streetwise bouncing baller, “Your crooked love is just a pyramid scheme”. The new wave synths n’ sorrow of “Miss Missing You” is another highlight. Rod Stewart heartache soul over a Blondie dreamy disco 4/4 stomp. Aching, chic, diamond-hearted. “The person that you’d take a bullet for / Is behind the trigger”. Ohhh! Stump remains the star throughout. His voice swinging from baritone to falsetto, wild like loose electricity. On the pounding “Death Valley” when he hollers “I wanna see YOUR ANIMAL SIDE!” he hops from holy preacher to howling wolf in a heartbeat.
The album’s highest highs though are its bookend pairings and it folds fittingly with another duo of schmokin’ gunslingers featuring the ghosts of two of rock n’ roll’s most notorious outlaws. The frantic n’ furious “Rat A Tat” hammers on the door with a familiar voice that spells “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”. “It’s Courtney, BITCH!”. Ms. Love then proceeds to recite a raucous “Patti Rants Rimbaud”-rap whilst the music spins like Bloc Party’s “Helicopter” toward a golden pop rainbow sweep of a chorus before the neighbourhood Warriors chant it out of town. A-ruddy-mazing. “Lower your standards ‘cos it’s never get any better than this” wisecracks Stump. The tears n’ goosebumps inducing beatific ballad “Save Rock & Roll” closes the album with a widescreen wonder. Fall Out Boy play the role of gutter scamps lookin’ defiantly up at the stars before their doubtful hearts are kissed and reignited by an Angel in a glittery tiara (played here by Dame Elton of John). “Oh we won’t go / We don’t know how to quit!”. It’s the end of the movie emotional payoff, perhaps ‘uncool’, but completely uplifting, sincere and smalltown victorious.
Though Fall Out Boy’s modus operandi is typically “Angst to dance to” there’s darker intent behind Save’s blue eyes. Pete Wentz’s lyrics are plagued with bitterness n’ bruises, threats n’ regrets, open wounds n’ split lips, “FUCK YOU’s”, “Angels choking on their halos” and enough amores perros to warrant a permanent vacation on an analyst’s couch. Save Rock and Roll may be ray o’ sunshine bright on top but it’s weirdly, worryingly, haunted like midnight underneath. “Car-crash hearts” indeed.
At its best Save Rock and Roll is more than a Pop Tart it’s a musical anti-ageing pill. A smart, let’s-get-ready-to-rumble, “In your face n’ bouncing on your bed” ballroom blitz of top-notch “Pop Rocky”. With the emphasis – ironically - more on “Pop” than “Rocky” it’s not as dynamic with contrast as the more accomplished Folie à Deux yet it’s a charming, convincing and much welcome comeback. Consider Fall Out Boy’s “...Dreams again?” rebooted.