3 stars (out of 4)
Patrick Stump, the songwriter-singer who played trusty sidekick to pin-up Pete Wentz in multimillion-selling rock band Fall Out Boy, steps out for his first solo album, the misleadingly titled “Soul Punk” (Island).
The “punk” is nowhere to be found, and the “soul” is missing in action, too, especially if you have someone like Otis Redding or even Prince in mind. Instead Stump channels the ‘80s MTV incarnation via the British haircut bands, from ABC to Spandau Ballet. Even more pronounced is his debt to Michael Jackson as filtered through the late singer’s most successful acolyte, Justin Timberlake. Stump’s falsetto-tinged vocals and danceable, chorus-heavy arrangements are thick with third-hand Jackson-isms, right down to the clipped, hiccupping vocal inflections.
Forget the punk and the old-school soul, this is a retro-leaning pop album -- and a mostly good one.
The singer produced and played all the instruments himself, and shows a genuine affinity for dance music that wasn’t present in, say, rocker Chris Cornell’s 2009 crossover bust, “Scream.” Using synthesizers to build anticipation (“This City”) and develop melodies (“Spotlight”), splashing plenty of ersatz handclaps amid the syncopated beats, laying out finger-popping disco bass lines (“Run Dry”) and spicing things up with some strutting horns (“Everybody Wants Somebody”), Stump keeps pouring on the pleasure.
But the lyrics are a different story. “Explode” documents a middle-age crisis gone horribly off the rails. “Dance Miserable” is darkly comical, urging “Just dance like you’re disappointed in the world” over a monotone litany of ills (“unemployed, foreclosed, uninsured …”). “I’m a cheat, cheat, cheat,” Stump announces in the self-flagellating “The ‘I’ in Lie,” and “Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)” is like an eight-minute ad for rehab, a cautionary tale that – contrary to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” – strongly suggests drinking until passing out isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even a remix of the ostensibly celebratory “This City” finds rapper Lupe Fiasco dishing on the racism that makes the hometown he shares with Stump something less than utopia.
Guilt, doubt, moral struggles – “Soul Punk” is one sobering dance party.
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