***1/2 (out of four)
When you don’t see someone for years, it can take time to acclimate to who they are now. We change over time, and our friends, significant others and favorite bands may not grow with us.
I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago when I discovered Fall Out Boy’s endlessly listenable full-length debut, “Take This To Your Grave.” I didn’t expect that on “Save Rock and Roll,” the hook-heavy Chicago band’s first album since 2008’s underrated “Folie A Deux,” the FOB guys would be the same, either.
Despite my non-existent singing ability, I have been propelled for years by Patrick Stump’s incredible, soulful pipes to belt out the songs while driving. My voice seems to become transcendent as those catchy, electric songs about love and loyalty become cathartic. Maybe you do something similar.
On first listen to the new album, I felt surprised/disappointed by some of the tracks that don’t immediately invite such treatment, at least not in the same way. Then I listened again, and again, and the record kept getting better.
Frequently fantastic and clearly personal, “Save Rock and Roll” is arguably the band’s least traditionally “rock and roll” album, incorporating dance elements that recall Stump’s unjustly maligned solo album “Soul Punk” more than much of FOB’s previous work. Off the bat, that’s jarring—as are guest appearances ranging from Courtney Love to Elton John. The album also lacks the standout moments provided on earlier records by excellent guitarist Joe Trohman and muscular drummer Andy Hurley.
Opener “The Phoenix” offers aggressive strings and an echoing dance beat that finds the band unafraid to stray from anything resembling a comfort zone. Later, the progressively appealing “Just One Yesterday” (which features Foxes and oddly bites its opening from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”) attempts a female vocal-backed piano pop track, and “The Mighty Fall” (featuring Big Sean) represents the record’s biggest misstep, a rock/rap hybrid that fails where a previous collaboration with Lil Wayne (“Tiffany Blews”) worked.
Pete Wentz’s lyrics have grown up nicely. The moving “Miss Missing You” provides one particular favorite: “The person that you take a bullet for is behind the trigger.”
Much of “Save Rock and Roll” plays like the soundtrack to an awesome party where everybody’s cooking a complicated stew of happiness, fear, confidence and reflection. “When Rome’s in ruins, we are the lions, free of the Coliseum,” Stump sings on the acoustic “Young Volcanoes,” which could be a clap-along, sing-along hit on the level of Fun's much, much more pandering “We Are Young.”
He croons, “I am here to collect your heart—it’s the only reason that I sing,” on “Where Did the Party Go?,” one of the best examples of FOB’s developing, keyboard-enhanced danceability. (Don’t bother trying to avoid shimmying during this song; you will fail.) And his incredible falsetto single-handedly elevates “Death Valley,” while it’s impossible not feel a sense of unity and bellow, “We’re all fighting growing old,” as Stump howls that refrain on the thunderous “Rat a Tat.”
For years, FOB has given reason to shout out loud and dance away sadness and regret. Those powerful, relatable feelings remain; only the way of dealing with them has changed.
In concert: May 16 at Riviera
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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