Despite the title of their fifth album, Fall Out Boy is no longer interested in saving rock and roll—or pop punk for that matter. This became clear after their 2018 release, Mania, an album that expanded their genre range and veered into the realm of electropop. Their new approach to music left fans and critics divided. Still, when the band began releasing a series of convoluted clues (which included websites with seashells and vague messages, mysterious packages sent to fans’ houses, and a cosmic conglomeration of acid-trip-adjacent images in the form of a claymation short film), dedicated fans clung to their Infinity on High records, pleading for new music that would adhere to the Fall Out Boy sound they fell in love with back in the golden age of pop punk.
The band has a choice: keep going down the pop/electronic route of their most recent album or return to their roots. And neither outcome is without risk. Another electronic album would create an even greater rift between FOB and their original fan base. But, returning to their old sound could put creativity in the corner. What the band needs is a renaissance: a revival of their rougher music and complex, riveting lyrics while creating and maintaining a new, more mature tone.
The band’s two newest singles, “Love From The Other Side” and “Heartbreak Feels So Good,” offer some insight on how FOB is going to tackle the next phase of their music career in their eighth album, So Much (For) Stardust, and whether they can find an equilibrium that pleases both nostalgic fans and their personal creative desires.
Released on January 18th, “Love From The Other Side” was the first glimpse into the new album. The song starts out like a gentle slap to the face. A pitter patter of piano and violin drizzles in, crescendoing in tension, building a sensation of something both whimsical and mythic. For all those predicting a more raw and authentic Fall Out Boy sound, this swerve into music that could accompany an 80s fantasy video game was certainly not what they had in mind.
But around the 40-second mark, heavy guitars and drums—well, heavy for Fall Out Boy—collapse over the mystic music like a wave of nostalgia. There is nothing particularly new about the sound. It’s a bit of a shock to the system but in a way that a routine flu shot is. The instruments are punchy and the drums provide a beat that is adequately head-bangable. The second Patrick Stump’s vocals come in, the drums vanish, letting his (albeit impressive) vocals carry us through the buildup and to the chorus. Stripped down verses and explosive choruses are not novelties—especially in the pop punk genre. But the way FOB does it is distinctively reminiscent of their past style. The structure, harmonies, and vocal isolation are almost eerily similar to the sound of their fifth studio album, Save Rock and Roll.
Despite its predictable structure and also because of it, the song is catchy and crisp. There is a lot to love about it. The guitar provides some shock value, switching between soft, entrancing plucking and deliciously harsh thrashing. The song never stays in one place for too long. The music is almost always morphing, building or diminishing, ushering us through the track like a strong undertow.
A small win for fans pining over the heydays of emo.
“Heartbreak Feels So Good” came a week later. The night before the release of “Track 2”, Patrick Stump did an interview with NME where he claimed that Fall Out Boy’s music was not returning to its original pop punk sound. This seems contradictory to the very direction toward which the band has been ushering fans. Still, “Heartbreak Feels So Good” is a song that perfectly proves Stump’s point.
The band insisted that the song would have a more Folie à Deux feel, but “Heartbreak Feels So Good” and its predictable, sanitized structure and lyrics are more reminiscent of recent albums, Mania and American Beauty/American Psycho. If “Love From The Other Side” is for fans of the first four albums, “Heartbreak Feels So Good” should serve to satisfy fans of the newer half of FOB’s discography.
The song begins with synth-style beats reminiscent of uninspired clubbing music from 2012. The drums, guitar, and bass inject some intrigue right before the pre-chorus, saving the song from its own stale pop flavor. Still, the song loses all potential momentum when the true chorus comes in. The single repeated line, “Heartbreak feels so good,” squanders the potential lyrical intrigue that is the backbone of every great FOB song. Bassist and resident lyricist Pete Wentz is more than capable of weaving poetic narratives and spawning provocative and thought-provoking innuendos. Without it, there is little that makes this song distinguishable from a soft rock remix of a feel-good-self-empowerment anthem.
I wanted to like this song, I really did. Each time I played it I tried to think deeper, listen harder, uncover something woven between the music that would change my opinion, but for me, nothing ever came. It’s not a bad song. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this song overplayed on every ‘alternative’ radio station and GAP sound system for the next year. It’s not too rock, not too painfully pop. It’s padded. It’s safe. It’s a far cry from the risks they’ve taken on previous albums, making it perfectly digestible even to those who have a dietary aversion to pop punk.
In their past albums, the band’s biggest pitfall was their inability to play to all their strengths at once. From Under The Cork Tree encapsulated the band’s punchy, punk spirit. Infinity on High is a collection of some of Pete Wentz’s most impressively heartbreaking lyrics. Folie à Deux showcases Patrick Stump’s vocal affinity for jazz-style music. Despite having 21 years of music experience and seven albums under their belt, Fall Out Boy have yet to produce music that is a tour de force in every component of every song. The cryptic rollout that sent fans on a digital scavenger hunt and “Love From The Other Side” seemed poised to usher in a FOB renaissance—an album where they prove that they have perfected their songwriting to the point of elemental unison. “Heartbreak Feels So Good” instead threatens to solidify the band as a commercial pop success.
While we won’t be getting an entire album that pays homage to Fall Out Boy’s pop punk style, there is a chance that So Much (For) Stardust will beautifully merge FOB’s signature sound and their newer pop-focused direction. I’m holding out hope until we’re on the other side of the album’s March 24th release date.