Fall Out Boy Search for Their Sweet Spot on Pop Rock-Infused ‘Mania’

Fall Out Boy have gone from 2013’s “Save Rock and Roll,” which was promoted as a “reimagining of the band” by drummer and long-time band member Joe Trohman, to “American Beauty/American Psycho” from 2015 where Pete Wentz, Patrick Stump and the guys mixed punk rock with EDM overtones. For their latest effort, the pop rock-infused “MANIA,” they’re leveling things out a bit. The overtness of the band’s transformation has for the most part worn off and they’re falling into a more mainstream comfort zone.  

That very comfort zone shows FOB’s true musical range. Like any good pop-adjacent album, “MANIA” serves to appeal to a wide swath of mainstream tastes. For long-time fans, though, there’s still plenty to latch on to from year’s past. Look at “Wilson (Expensive Tastes),” a single that incorporates a radio-friendly bounce but with the band’s signature sense of humor. Halfway through the accompanying music video Pete Wentz gets hit in the groin with a rogue tennis ball as the guys sell themselves – and other items like edible trash, dancing llamas and shrimp cocktail – on an infomercial. “I’ll start wearing black when they make a darker color,” sings Stump as a solitary nod back to the band’s emo roots. The (seemingly) random literary notations are still a major part of Fall Out Boy’s music. “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” is a great example. As grimy electronics lead to fist-pumping lines like the, again very funny, “I’m about to go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee.” Some detective work will connect this tune to the final track on the record, “Bishop’s Knife Trick,” which references the 1979 sci-fi classic “Aliens.” In one scene, Bishop the android performs the table/hand/knife trick on Bill Paxton’s character. Later in the film Corporal Hicks tells his team to “stay frosty.”

Regardless of the sonic journey Fall Out Boy may have been on in recent years, Stump’s vocals have largely remained as good as they’ve always been. The single “The Last of the Real Ones” shows his vocal steadfastness. “I’m done with having dreams/The thing that I believe/You drain the fear from me,” he sings during the bridge before the instruments run silent and Stump screams in true Stump fashion “’Cause you’re the last of a dying breed.” This, before heavy guitars and hard-hitting drums take the song to fruition.

The real concern is Fall Out Boy’s capacity to find a voice in their adopted pop genre. Thus far, and on this record in particular, they’ve managed keep some of their old flavor (sans the emo) in each song. “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T,” though a tropical dancehall cut with marimba, still retains heavy guitar while “Young and Menace” harps on a near dubstep/EDM rhythm, yet it still feels like Fall Out Boy. “Adapt or die” seems to be the motto of the band in 2018. After all, this type of mindset is compulsory in today’s swiftly changing music culture. To their credit, “MANIA” serves to do just that.

MANIA” is available Jan. 19 on Apple Music.