Fall Out Boy’s let a lot of people down over the years. Being a fan of theirs - a dedicated, true-blue, beating heart fan - it’s not an easy task to take on, to stick to, to maintain. Every band that wants to achieve any sort of longevity with their career has a fine line to walk between letting themselves grow as artists and creating music that’s going to resonate with fans, and the evolution that FOB has gone through has exposed them to a wide array of audience types - many who have grasped on, lived, loved, and then fallen off due to stylistic changes or growth out of “that kind of music” or what have you. I’m not here to defend the sonic qualities of Save Rock and Roll, the enjoyment of music in it’s physical wavelength form is of personal opinion and can’t be won with an argument of words. But, I’ve been reading a lot of people writing off their newest effort for all the wrong reasons - saying it lacks heart, it’s too simple/mainstream, it’s not as sharp as previous work. Well, I’m here to try and deconstruct why all of that simply isn’t true. Fall Out Boy has been my favorite band for the last 11 years (even just writing the words “favorite band” aren’t enough - I will never be able to articulate how deeply they are a part of me) and as a friend once said to me, “having a favorite band is a labor of love sometimes.” I’m not without my own criticisms of the record and of the way they’ve done things over the years, but goddammit if I’m going to let this record go without my own assessment on its context and on the reasons for why it exists.
I would argue that one of the only things the band knows with absolute certainty how to accomplish is what it means to be ambivalent, and with that ambivalence comes a certain sense of subversion. Their one consistent agenda over the years has been to inspire people to ALWAYS look below the surface, to always crawl through the obvious to find another kind of meaning. It’s human nature to want to categorize things, peg them as this-and-that, neatly shuffle them into respective corners and call it a day. FOB beats back that idea with this record by presenting their take on their own struggle (is struggle too melodramatic a word? Is “too melodramatic” even an issue when it comes to FOB?) to be themselves, to be a band, to find their place in the world.
Look, it’s no fucking secret that the content of their songs dating back as early as FUCT have centered themselves around the idea of fame, popularity, scrutiny, and what it means to exist under those circumstances. I’d even posit that the fascination with those themes stems directly from the fact that FOB DEFINED the way they wrote lyrics by stepping outside themselves, taking a look, and assigning themselves a characteristic in the form of some self-deprecating object (“My insides are copper” “I’m all scars” “My heart is on my sleeve, wear it like a bruise or black eye”). The point is that this band has forever been both hopelessly self-aware AND obsessed with examining the ways in which they fit in the context of the world - it started small with TTTYG and only grew as their audience did - and for me, the fact that Save Rock and Roll is an exercise in continuing their context study and how their music fits in the world in its current state seems like the most natural progression they could have.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints that the snark isn’t there anymore, that the biting cynicism and snap-tongued one liners that everyone wants to train flashlights on aren’t surfacing. It’s something that I won’t necessarily disagree with; the songs seem to be only tinged with sarcasm instead of steeped in it. But instead of gouging sharp lines of smirk here and there throughout the music, what I’ve found instead is that this record boasts a more general attitude, and a consistent one - something that hasn’t really been present on past FOB records. How long can these musicians ride out the momentum of writing angry poetry? (“Are you ready for another bad poem?”) And it’s not like they completely threw out the book and started writing in vague minimalist bullshit and they CERTAINLY didn’t dumb down the lyrics (Big Sean’s appearance notwithstanding - ugh) - the Wentz-isms are STILL there if you’re looking hard enough for them. Unfortunately, no one wants to think twice or look closer into what they’re consuming and will write it off as a flopped FOB effort because they wished there were more lines about hips and headaches.
The general attitude that I speak of can only really be identified as the effort the band states in the title, Save Rock and Roll. Yeah, you bet your ass I rolled my eyes at it, too, when I first heard what it was to be called. But again, I kept thinking about FOB’s obsession with metafame and the idea that they had subverted the mainstream with all their commercial success - when “Sugar” shot up the charts they became our mole, they were our man on the inside, they were behind enemy lines. FOB could honestly be regarded as popular culture’s biggest troll of all time - consider the fact that four fucking hardcore kids from the Midwest were able to infiltrate mainstream music and start a REVOLUTION. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily a GOOD revolution that accomplished anything of actual value - I believe they are single-handedly responsible for the neon craze, for instance - but nonetheless, it was a generational and cultural footprint and it’s impossible to deny the impact they had on pop AND rock music from like 2005-2008 or so. The self-deprecating music videos with heavy-handed messages about being a famous band are a legitimate form of satire, and one of the best things that I’ve found about being an FOB fan is trying to determine the target of the satire - whether it be at themselves, the industry, the fanfare, etc. The layers and dimensions of the entire thing are pretty staggering and moreover, they invite you to think about what the fuck you’re listening to, to what you’re enjoying, to the reasons defining your experience.
All that in mind, it’s important to place the existence of Save Rock and Roll within those sensibilities and recognize it for the effort it actually WANTS to be, and not the effort that everyone immediately THINKS it is. People will be horrified at what they perceive as audacity when they consider the record title and the subsequent themes found in the music - I want to purport the idea that it could just as easily be identified as sarcastic or subversive. OR be taken seriously! The ambiguity is the whole point! I understand that musically speaking, it’s not for everyone. The mainstream appeal is completely undeniable and raises my own questions of staying power and influence. But, I think it’s absolutely essential to remember that FOB went to GREAT LENGTHS to keep all this shit a secret, to write and record without scrutiny, to take themselves into a non-judgmental artistic place that they hadn’t been able to secure for themselves in a long time. That to me speaks volumes of the effort and I’ve already relegated my unwavering respect to the record for that fact ALONE. But, I love this band mercilessly and I have nothing but adulation for the way that they’ve pushed themselves to grow over the course of their career. This isn’t a record about the by-and-large of saving rock and roll, it’s a record raising questions as to what the fuck rock and roll should even begin to entail, it’s a record about examining the fluidity of the definition of rock and roll. I implore everyone who ever gave a shit about this band to keep that in mind if they decide to give the record a shot. There’s so many awesome things to come out thinking critically about your music for even a few minutes, and FOB, if nothing else, provides music and an image RIFE with opportunity to do just that.
Put on your war paint. Whether you’re crusading with or against Fall Out Boy is a decision THEY want you to think through.