For a band out to "Save Rock And Roll" it's funny to open an album with a rousing string line. When you remember it's Fall Out Boy doing it, it doesn't seem nearly as ludicrous - and the dramatic swells do give way to a rousing, purpose-screaming opening track that is among some of the best they've done.
Butch Walker handles the boards on this one - a bit of a change-up from the Neal Avron-helmed days - and it fits them as they shift towards more pop-oriented song structures - and more rock tunes that are tweaked to fit the R&B crooner that Patrick Stump let out much more completely on his well done (but poorly selling) solo debut. Here, with his band back behind him, he pulls off the balance with finesse, with the band helping him along and adding their own flavor. It's not quite straight up rock and roll - it sounds more like a delirious collage of R&B, Pop, and Rock.
Aforementioned rousing string line is the kicker that opens "The Phoenix" which by its very title speaks of a band that many had written off as dead and gone "rising again." But as bassist Pete Wentz was quick to state earlier this year "It was just a hiatus - that doesn't mean broken up." Chiding or not, this is a demanding, propulsive track that is a smashing start to the album. They even manage to pen a boast that doesn't really sound like a boast with couplets like "Wearing all vintage misery / no I think it looked a little better on me." And here they make a case for being one of the best at doing their particular flavor of hybrid rock - and the album to follow props that case up pretty well. Immediately following is "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark" which is one part rallying call, one part wash-away-the-past-and-start fresh anthem - a perfect companion piece to "The Phoenix."
Following the 1-2 punch opening things up is a bit of "vintage FOB" with Track 3 "Alone Together." Clearly, none of the members of Fall Out Boy are as young as they were when "Fall Out Boy's night out with your girlfriend" introduced them to the world. That doesn't mean a celebration of "Age is naught but a number" sentiments is a bad thing. Here they manage to weld their classic angst/hopeful lyrics meshed together with a backing track that is one half them, one half classic Goo Goo Dolls songs. A rip off you might say? Thankfully no, it plays more like an homage, and a suitable one at that.
"Where Did The Party Go" rides a glistening mid-tempo strut which plays off as a track almost bemoaning the absence of music just like the sort that is their bread and butter (until 2013, at least.) Some parts even sound like a cheesy (if affectionate) homage to 80's movies where "All the boys are smoking menthols / the girls are getting backrubs" - however you want to picture it, it works. They similarly mine the 80's vibe with the scattered new-wave rave-up "Miss Missing You" which features FOB-almost-doing-Devo and some more histrionic vocal turns by Stump. Another thing that could sound like a trainwreck on paper, but they manage to pull it off well.
"Young Volcanoes" is another deliciously catchy "Age ain't nothing but a number" tune. In most people's hands, lines like "We will teach you / how to make boys next door / out of assholes" would sound clunky and mal-formed. Here, it flows like butter. This one conjures quite a few images of a rousing live rendition with the crowd clapping along.
Sometimes they stumble a bit with lines like "Letting people down is my thing baby / so find yourself a new gig" - where they simultaneously acknowledge a strength and weakness all at once. Why weak you say? Similar lyrics, extolling being an expert at disappointment / etc. - these things pepper their first 4 releases - so hearing the same sort of thing now and again on this album feels a bit recycled. And the guest spot with Courtney Love on "Rat a tat" is one of the most forgettable tracks on the album - could have been great - instead it sounds like a mess.
The chipmunk-vocal-tuned "Till your breathing stops / forever" echoing across the closing, title track - works well as a cheeky homage to their past hits - and a soft-spoken rallying call to keep on going. Structurally the song is somewhere between classic Fall Out Boy and Bon Jovi bombast - and Elton John's presence is a bit odd on paper, but in sound, it works.
Fall Out Boy may not "Save" rock and roll with this disc - but they make a strong case for being a worthwhile musical force, and this writer is certainly looking forward to album #6 in the coming years.