M A N I A: Song by Song


Public domain image, obtained from Fall Out Boy’s Facebook page.

It’s been a long nine months for Fall Out Boy fans since the band first announced their seventh studio album back in April of 2017. The band pushed back the full release, originally slated for last September, until Jan. 19, scrapping all but a handful of their tracks for a re-record and keeping fans busy with cryptic teasers and periodic drops.

As with every step the band’s taken, this one is bold, unapologetic and redefining; naturally, they’ve received both love and hate for it. The album defies summary and categorization, and yet evaluating each part without the context of the rest misses a key piece of the picture: the careful, brilliant way the band brought all the songs together.

“Young and Menace”: The song that started it all, “Y&M” is by far the most eclectic and controversial track on the record. When it first dropped, it was met with confusion from fans and critics alike for its strange new direction, sudden transitions and explosive, EDM-inspired chorus. The song itself has its highs and lows, but its real strength is its context: a bold step way beyond the band’s comfort zone and an appetizer for an album that certainly delivered. On the whole, however, the track would have benefitted from being included in the rethink.

“Champion”: When I first heard “Champion,” I was initially underwhelmed. Composition-wise, it’s smoother and more focused than “Y&M,” but retains enough of the same sound and mood to suggest an emerging pattern of low, downtempo verses and heavily electronic sounds. However, these fears were dispelled with the third release, “The Last of the Real Ones.” Like “Y&M” before it, “Champion” has some strong vocal moments, but in the context of the whole LP, it gets lost in the power of the other tracks. Its greatest quality lies in bridging the stylistic chasms of the album, drawing on the mood and feel of “Y&M” while alluding to “The Last of the Real Ones” with a shared sound motif.

“Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea”: This song has been a fan favorite since its title was announced, and while it certainly brings a lot of energy and personality to the record, in some ways it still falls short of the hype. Rock Sound Magazine promised “dancefloor-destroying mayhem” in an early review of “M A N I A,” and while “Stay Frosty” will certainly get your head banging and your blood pumping, it feels more like a high-octane version of “Champion” than a real dance song. Its lack of initial lyrical cohesion is reminiscent of pre-hiatus Fall Out Boy, but with all the vocal diversity and modern pop sound of “Novocaine” and “Irresistible.”

“HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T”: The fourth track released, “Hold Me Tight” is the “Centuries” of “M A N I A.” It’s light-hearted, catchy and vocally superb, and like “Centuries,” it still dominates the album’s airtime and live performances. Is it overplayed? You can judge for yourself, but in my opinion, the track, though worthy of the hype, has run its course, and it’s time we see more of the full album and a little less of the singles.

“The Last of the Real Ones”: Light, poppy and quick-paced, the third single released was a sharp digression from the tone set by its precursors, but it immediately bridges the gap with the transposed motif from “Champion.” Packed with stunning vocals, clever lyrics and a bright piano melody, it is reminiscent of frontman Patrick Stump’s “Soul Punk” solo project.

“Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)”: Although the studio version didn’t drop until January, “Wilson” was another instant hit after it was featured in the M A N I A Tour setlist. It’s downtempo and reflective, with so many layers of tender, passionate vocals whispering the refrain or screaming the last line of the chorus that it can only be fully enjoyed with headphones. The lyrics are beautifully meaningful and the composition smooth from start to finish.

“Church”: This track has some of the strongest vocals on the record and blends modern rock sounds with church bells and a backing choir. The lyrics are equally compelling and contrast pining angst with a touch of humor. It’s forceful and more than a little chaotic, but in a way that gives it charm and character, striking a delicate, surprisingly successful balance between the punk and cathedral feel.

“Heaven’s Gate”: Arguably the most soulful and vocally-powerful track, “Heaven’s Gate” has a slow, sweeping R&B feel and sounds the most like “What a Catch, Donnie” and their earlier album “Folie à Deux.” Every element from the bass to the drums lends itself to highlight the range and strength of Stump’s vocals, delivering the driven and passionate love ballad fans have been eagerly awaiting.

“Sunshine Riptide”: This song is one of the biggest stretches on the record, and is also one of the most creative in lyrics and composition. The verses diverge from the angst of the earlier tracks with a laid-back, reggae-inspired tone, while the chorus swells into a tidal wave of jaded optimism. The song defies the time-honored, traditional structure by putting the bridge, sung by Nigerian artist Burna Boy, between verses instead of after them. Despite the reach in genre, Stump handles the verses beautifully, and the layering in the chorus flows extremely well.

“Bishops Knife Trick”: Another slow and passionate track, “Bishops” gets its power from the seamless weaving of soulful vocals, understated ambient instruments and poignant yet hopeful lyrics. The bridge is especially well-crafted and hits hard every time. The song has a “Soul Punk” and “Jet Pack Blues” feel and makes a beautiful, emotional closer to a wildly-varied album.

The diehard “From Under the Cork Tree” fan might not find much to like on “M A N I A”; its pop sound and modern influences are more in the vein of “American Beauty/American Psycho” than old-school punk. But perhaps thanks to the delayed release, the album also carries a greater sense of refinement than most of its predecessors. It’s a carefully crafted tale of the highs and lows of existence, swinging rapidly between deep emotional turmoil and — as the title would suggest — manic self-confidence.

To call “M A N I A” diverse would be an understatement; each song is stylistically on a plane of its own, but one way or another, it connects with the rest. Sometimes it’s the repetition of an idea or motif; sometimes it’s nothing more substantial than a shared mood or vibe — the result is a complex and dynamic record with much more power than just the sum of its parts.