Honesty may be the best policy, but one has to question whether bassist Pete Wentz could have sugarcoated things a little more last month when he explained Fall Out Boy pushing back the release of their new album “M A N I A” by telling Entertainment Weekly many of the songs were “just not good enough.”
Such candor may be commendable on its face, but it’s hardly the way to build public confidence in a record, particularly given that the four-month delay — from early September to the third week of January — meant Fall Out Boy were retooling the disc’s 10 tracks while carrying out an arena tour across North America ostensibly in support of it. The setlists reflected this conflict, the band only drawing on five or fewer of the previously released singles off “M A N I A”; the dates felt more like career retrospectives than avenues to highlight new material.
And as it turns out, Wentz and frontman Patrick Stump were right to trust their instincts. Their mistake was thinking a few months of tinkering would fix the problem.
The reworked “M A N I A” never coalesces into a satisfying or particularly listenable whole; in spreading themselves between sounds even more disparate than on 2015’s maximalist “American Beauty/American Psycho,” Fall Out Boy have only succeeded in diluting their strengths.
While the band’s continued dedication to oddness comes as little surprise, given how consistently the pop-punk legends have styled themselves as fence-swinging sonic weirdos, the influences on this set of songs — gospel-pop on the exceedingly tedious “Church,” complete with a choir, organ, and rhythmic handclaps; dancehall-reggae on “Sunshine Rapture,” a muddled attempt at a summer beachside hit — do more harm than good to Stump’s once-intrinsically expressive delivery. And in reaching for pop-radio glory, the band has entirely eroded its lyrical edge; though Fall Out Boy once wielded some of their generation’s sharpest, catchiest punk songwriting, these tracks settle for lame but loudly delivered choruses (“If I can live through this, I can live through anything” on the numbing “Champion”; “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” on vaguely honkytonk sing-along “Wilson [Expensive Mistakes]”) and overproducing Stump’s vocals to such a degree that his falsetto’s distinctive grit seems almost intentionally sanded away.
“We’ve gone way too fast for way too long/And we were never supposed to make it half this far,” broods Stump in the very first lyric of “M A N I A,” opening the EDM-tinted “Young and Menace.” Given the album’s bumpy road to release, and how creatively spent late-stage Fall Out Boy often sound throughout these latest sonic experimentations, you can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the problem, and the fruits of their interminable labor are simply beginning to show their age.Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.