Are Fall Out Boy really so objectionable? ‘Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down’ still holds up, as do ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ and ‘This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race’. Guilty pleasures or not, they’re damn fine pop songs. And yet, the very name ‘Fall Out Boy’ provokes scorn. What was once a clever Simpsons gag became synonymous with a genre as fondly regarded as nu-metal and by the time career low-point Folie á Deux lazily rolled off the conveyor belt in 2008, even the hardcores were lining up to take aim. The downfall proved particularly traumatic for frontman Patrick Stump who went so far as to quit music entirely following abuse from fans and a disastrous solo effort.
If Stump seemed an unfair target (Pete Wentz is right there, guys), he at least recognised that phoning it in was no longer an option. Enter Save Rock and Roll, a don’t-call-it-a-comeback record packed with swagger and self-belief, even if it is ultimately more concerned with damage control than reinventing the wheel. The first cut proves the deepest as ‘The Phoenix’ throws down the gauntlet with a healthy dose of electricity and venom. ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark’ snatches the baton, marching forward from the off, delivering another killer chorus, this time packed with a knowing ‘80s reverence.
When they aim high, they usually nail it, which is why it’s disappointing that Save Rock and Roll quickly descends into MOR safety. ‘Miss Missing You’ is straight-up too-old-for-this-shit Jimmy Eat World high school demographic fodder, while ‘Where Did the Party Go’ and ‘Young Volcanoes’ feel a tad cynical despite boasting shrewd pop sensibilities. Meanwhile, ‘Just One Yesterday’ nods explicitly in the direction of ‘Rolling in the Deep’, perhaps unwise given it never comes close to matching the verve and charm of Adele’s classic.
As for Courtney Love’s appearance on the record, well, if you’re hoping for a complete fucking train wreck, then you’re in luck. ‘Rat a Tat’ comes spring-loaded with face-palm invitation as Love, ever wide of the mark, announces, “It’s Courtney, bitch!” thus providing a Pavlovian hit-the-skip-button response each time the track comes around on rotation. If you do manage to brave it past the first three seconds you’ll be treated to sub-Brody Dalle speed-garble as Love spits out asinine nonsense like she’s fronting the world’s worst YouTube conspiracy video. Breakneck pace and typically game work from Stump fail to stop the bleeding.
Faring somewhat better in the special guest department is one Elton John who brings the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek grandiosity to one of the more daring title tracks you’re likely to hear all year. The messianic ‘Save Rock and Roll’ may not live up to its name (in fact, neither song nor album really ever sets out to), but it plays to the gallery with an all or nothing grin. In many respects, it’s the perfect catch-all Fall Out Boy song. Utterly ridiculous, occasionally laughable (Elton’s entrance is straight out of South Park), powered by heart, laden with hooks and about as subtle as a sledgehammer, it serves up ammunition for detractors and purpose for disciples. As the emphatic conclusion pauses for breath, Stump notes that Fall Out Boy don’t know when to quit. He remains their one true constant – capable of brilliance but only sporadically revealing it.