Sound — 6
If there's one thing Fall Out Boy deserve credit for, it's making sure that even their greatest enemies are talking about them. Love and hate defined their first wind as a goofy pop-punk outfit, but the conversation didn't stop when they went on hiatus in 2009 and as much as they'd hate to it admit it, everybody including UG readers was waiting with baited breath to dissect the title and circumstances of comeback album "Save Rock And Roll". Only unimaginative writers will grant that much attention to the title - those who know the band, and especially their propensity for silly names, will take the pinch of salt and focus on the music. As was foretold by the singles (or even further back, the soulful, camp and utterly divine "Folie À Deux") this is Fall Out Boy's emancipation from rock. The live band dynamic is dismantled, the trusty powerchord left behind, and in its place rises an assertive and occasionally callous take on mechanical mainstream pop. The most striking thing, besides the remarkable presence of Elton John on the title track, is that so much of it is electronic. Drum machines, processed vocals, chopped samples and synthesisers are all mixed into the palette of new producer Butch Walker. With credits including Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne and Weezer's "Raditude", Walker has a history of sucking the soul out of established artists but the best he can do with Fall Out Boy is redraw their boundaries and see how they react. The boundaries are drawn liberally, however. Eleven distinct songs traverse sickly bubblegum ("Where Did The Party Go"), thundering powerpop ("Rat A Tat") and even rap ("The Mighty Fall" featuring Big Sean) to name a few. "Save Rock And Roll" is both diverse in its influences and all too ready to adhere to homogenous pop aesthetics in pursuit of the ultimate hook. They're not all winners by any means, but catchiness runs rampant through some of these tracks and that ought to be remembered while you're busy being offended by the changes on the surface.
Lyrics — 6
Singer Patrick Stump and lyricist Pete Wentz bear a lot of the responsibility to oversee these wholesale changes with tact and class; a catchy melody and smart set of lyrics can do a lot to ease the transition. The early signs aren't great, though they've had stronger rhymes than "I'm gonna change you like a remix/then I'll raise you like a phoenix," that's for sure. Wentz is tentative with his emotional content, unsure of how personal he can get before it starts to distract from the album's charisma, but he has reasonable success with everything else. Standout track "Young Volcanoes" is a neat little package of aspiration and youth idealism and is one of only a few occasions where Stump dials down the vanity and sings intimately. He is wonderfully talented and leads the line impressively but his bombastic melodies, especially coupled with the processed pop backdrop, do seem rather impersonal.
Overall Impression — 6
I always got the impression that Fall Out Boy were born popstars, but had to grow up playing in punk bands before they could figure out how to spread their wings. As it happens, their transformation has been a very public one but the advantage of coming back from a hiatus is that this can be a clean break. This is Fall Out Boy 2.0, but not everybody's gonna like it. The devout pop-punker will wretch at the sound but the oblivious radio listener will hardly notice the cracks as the four of them blend into the mainstream pop landscape. No matter the prejudices you bring to it "Save Rock And Roll" is still a postmodern-pseudo-ironic-avant-scene adventure in the end, and it has all of the confusion and some of the fun that Fall Out Boy made a name on. You can't say they don't keep it fresh, but have they got this one right? We'll know that they have if people are still upset about it in two years' time.