With the title of their new album, one gets the sense that Fall Out Boy want to ‘Save Rock and Roll’ in the same way that an action movie star will “save the day”: in the most fantastic and exciting way possible. Now would certainly be their chance to do it: after a four year hiatus, what group wouldn’t like to come back strong and take the world by storm? Problem is, for much of ‘Save Rock and Roll,’ Fall Out Boy attempt this in ways that simply don’t ring true, ways that feel more conscious of trends and fads than anything else. If I were to keep running with the movie simile, then ‘Save Rock and Roll’ is the sequel that forgets much of what made the original so successful.
The album certainly starts out strong enough, the first four tracks comprising a suite of the kind of high energy anthems that Fall Out Boy have made their bread and butter. From the orchestral swells of “The Phoenix” to the fervent cheers of “Alone Together,” F.O.B. make it clear that ‘Save Rock and Roll” is meant to be a statement of triumph. This comes across even in the righteous aggression of “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,” the album’s first single and a laudable crowd-pleaser at that. The band would do well to make “Where Did the Party Go?” their follow-up hit: it’s even better, with a rollicking hook to its chorus that’s as catchy as anything F.O.B. have ever put out. From its first third alone, it would seem that all the hype for ‘Save Rock and Roll’ was well deserved.
Things begin to go downhill in the second act, however, starting with “Just One Yesterday,” where singer Patrick Stump sings, “Anything you say can and will be held against you / So only say my name and it will be held against you.” While this isn’t the only time ‘Save Rock and Roll’ lightly plagiarizes a Britney Spears song (and the other instance comes from Courtney Love, so I’ll give the band a pass), it’s exactly the kind of line that Fall Out Boy have been selling convincingly for years. The same can’t be said of the chorus, which feels shockingly tame and empty: “I’d trade all my tomorrows for just one yesterday.” Nothing wrong with stepping lightly into ballad territory, but an album like this has no business getting wistful, certainly not with a song like this, which brings all the good will and momentum of the earlier tracks to a screeching halt.
In a way, this one song is the crucial failing of the whole album; it really is so bad, the disappointment seeps into other tracks. “Miss Missing You” has that same sense of listlessness, the band’s whole sensibility utterly wasted on a mopey song masquerading as a danceable 80s throwback. Even the line “The person you’d take the bullet for is behind the trigger,’ again the kind of line F.O.B. typically owns, feels stilted and lacking in conviction. The only thing I can say in favor of “Miss Missing You” is that it’s not quite as utterly forgettable as “Death Valley,” which could be more adequately described if you were to look up “filler” in the dictionary. It simply lacks any sort of point or passion, eking by on mere competence without anything to put it over the top.
I really can’t stress enough how much the sense of disappointment contributes to ‘Save Rock and Roll’s’ shortcomings: if a song’s failings don’t stem from its own inherent problems, it’s usually because it doesn’t even sound like the band is trying to be themselves. I recognized “Alone Together” as a terrific song, though a better descriptor might be “the best Adam Levine song in years, if not ever.” There’s some crossover between the two acts’ pop sensibilities, so this resemblance, if uncanny, is excusable. What can’t be pardoned is “Young Volcanes,” which evokes the soft-pop stylingsof Bruno Mars; and whatever your opinion of the man, I think we can agree that the worst kind of Bruno Mars is soft-pop Bruno Mars. Lyrically, the song’s a train wreck (how can any kind of volcano be classified as “wild,” I ask you?), the humming of the chorus (literally no words, just humming) seeming less like a fun rhythm and more like Stump just forgot the words.
There is some measure of salvaged goods from the last two songs (the titular track especially), and “The Mighty Fall” is actually kind of terrific whenever Big Sean can keep his mouth closed. The same goes for Courtney Love’s monologues in “Rat A Tat,” though her singing on the bridge nicely conveys the attitude of a female Tim Armstrong. If all these guest artists and evocations of other artists tells you anything, though, it’s that Fall Out Boy is at their best when they’re just being themselves, and ‘Save Rock and Roll’ features far too much of them not doing that.