Sound — 8
It was inevitable. Throughout Chicago-based Fall Out Boy's career, time and again were fans told of the musical "genius" of one Patrick Stump. As frontman (Pete who?) of one of the more successful post-nineties punk/pop acts, Stump's announcement of a solo project at the outset of FOB's "hiatus" was met with little surprise. At the same time, it shocks no one that there has been a certain reluctance when considering the man outside of the would-be-punk world of teenies and Wentz's bad hair days. Not every solo act is half as successful as those of, say, Lennon and McCartney. Forgive me if I use "The Open Door" as an example. This is Stump's second release, released a few months after the anticipatory "Truant Wave" EP. Without promotion of any sort, it was lucky chance (or talent?) that shepherded a following of fans old and new. "Soul Punk", of 2011, has had about the same effect. Though Stump's presence is the only real musical link to Fall Out Boy, the man certainly has proven to have had a certain amount of staying power. I'm going to stop just a moment to waggle a naughty finger at some of the critics of this record. I've read numerous comparisons to Patrick's previous affair, and am here to tell you now that there really aren't any. Even the far-fetched "Folie A Deux" (2008) comes closer to the band's punk roots than this LP, despite the word "punk" appearing right in the title of the damn thing. Let this be a lesson to you kids out there about taking a grain of salt with what you read. I emphasized the "punk" bit of "Soul Punk" for a reason. The title is unique in and of itself, and suggestive of several themes and sounds that don't necessarily appear anywhere on the record. After combing through both the main release and its bonus tracks, I have found only two moments with any rock tendencies, let alone of directly punk influence. The opening of "Allie" is centered on guitar-and-drum duo, and the second half of "Run Dry" has a few moments. Apart from that, the punk element is primarily conceptual. This being said, what does "Soul Punk" sound like? How does that relate to the title? It is split into three segments. There is a definite "soul" influence in Stump's voice, as has been the case for quite some time now. Melodies in a few of the tracks reflect this, and the larger-than-life presentation of some of the harmonies doesn't hurt (see: "Greed" and the b-sides "People Never Done A Good Thing" and "When I Made You Cry"). The "punk" is, again, conceptual. This is primarily centered in some of the lyrics. Whether in terms of line-by-line analysis or general assumptions that go with the "punk" tagline, there is a certain edge here. Finally, there is more "pop" on this record than anything of Fall Out Boy's. Mixed with the other two elements, however, this doesn't at all offend. Rarely does Stump run the risk of blending with the crowd of computer-generated stardom of the day. Instrumentally, Stump's range is intriguing. Many tracks are driven by blues guitar or synth, but some very fun soul elements are thrown in here and there, with brass among them. Production, though handled entirely by Stump himself, is seldom short of excellent. Consistency is where the album wanes. "Explode" is a sufficient kickoff, but "This City" is less engaging. "Dance Miserable" will be fun for some and miserable for others, and the familiar "Spotlight (New Regrets)" will always be at war with its "Truant Wave" edition. "The "I" in Lie" is a high point, and the quality isn't hampered until the chorus of "Everybody Wants Somebody". "Allie" brings things back to speed, but "Coast" is far from a strong ending. With the deluxe edition, this is followed by the fiasco of Lupe Fiasco's version of "This City". Stump kicks us while we're down with the cheesy "Bad Side Of 25". From then on out, however, the bonus track stand out more than a considerable few of the standard release's scant - count 'em - ten tracks. "Mad At Nothing" isn't necessarily an ending, but it certainly satisfies beyond "Coast"'s capability. "Soul Punk" brings back an energy and dignity in pop that hasn't existed in quite some time. What fascinated many about Michael Jackson's "Bad" was its revel, sometimes in excess, coinciding with pride. There are subtleties and a certain cleverness. Stump has the same effect - something desperately needed in a time when sixteen-year-old Canadians are dubbed "the next Michael Jackson". Though "Soul Punk" isn't entirely consistent, it and "Truant Wave" offer some fun tunes wrapped in a style that is somewhat familiar and somewhat unique. It keeps a steady pace with the progressions being made in music, while throwing in a bit more of what makes pop, soul, and punk exciting.
Lyrics — 8
Despite earlier tirade, there is one fair comparison between "Soul Punk" and whatever FOB release you deem appropriate. Though infusing a definite identity of his own in songwriting, Stump does take a leaf or two out of the book of Fall Out Boy bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz. This doesn't necessarily help or hinder, but may assist purists in sinking more easily into the "light-weight" Patrick. "Explode" particularly has a few tongue-in-cheek Wentz-esque moments, but by "Dance Miserable", the stage is all for Stump. This means more of an ironic edge, a decided bluntness, and perhaps a more adult attitude. The record still recognizes a certain audience, but Stump has also grown up with them. "The "I" In Lie" and "Run Dry" are examples dealing with fidelity, honor, and heavy drinking. The center of these is self-image. Believe it or not, this an interesting concept when correctly dissected. The romances - this is pop, after all - are far less shallow than those sprinkled throughout Fall Out Boy's discography. Stump is more abrasive toward everyone and everything. Topped with a voice that is nothing short of powerful, moments of "Soul Punk", to be frank, put the best of Fall Out Boy to shame.
Overall Impression — 8
When Fall Out Boy parted ways, there was certainly an air of discontent. Who, after all, could forget the unmatched lyrical genius of Pete Wentz mixed with the distinguished Andrew - oh, who am I kidding? When Fall Out Boy went on hiatus, it was certainly a disappointment, which is exactly what makes "Soul Punk" a gem in and of itself. Stump has already devoted an unwillingness to succumb to suppression by the dedicated Fall Out Boy fans. This obvious but vital first step has already been handled deftly. Stump is bold and experimental enough to keep the audience he has found, given that "Soul Punk 2", as it were, shies from rehash. This debut is not the crucial moment in his career; the next release will be. "Soul Punk" is fierce and fun, but with nuance. It is angry and bitter, but without taking itself too seriously. The record has its weaknesses, but they aren't unmatched - quite the contrary - by its strengths. Stump is an excellent vocalist, a competent producer, and knows how to write with or without that guy with the eyeliner. The new Patrick Stump is sleek, angry, and more than willing to kick some a-s. Time will tell his willingness to keep up.