After fans’ (ahem…) divisive response to Mania’s lead single ‘Young and Menace’, Fall Out Boy hastily headed back to the studio to re-record almost the entirety of the record. Singer Patrick Stump took to Twitter to say the original cut ‘felt rushed’, and the band weren’t prepared to put out a record that ‘is at least as strong or valid as the one that came before it’.
Despite this (frankly unwarranted) backlash, the bombastic ‘Young and Menace’ still opens digital editions of the record. Bizarrely, physical copies boast a slightly different (read: inferior) track-listing, and open with the far weaker ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’, which is as paint-by-numbers modern Fall Out Boy as they come – a disappointing step-down after the experimentation ‘Young and Menace’ seemed to promise.
“There are several more which play it too safe”
It’s likely fans will never experience the band’s original vision for Mania, but a side-effect of re-recording an album which has already released its signature statement is that the end result will almost certainly sound a bit scattered. For every club-ready track in a similar vein of ‘Young and Menace’ (the amazing Latin-influenced ‘Hold Me Tight or Don’t’ and the infectious ‘The Last of the Real Ones’), there are several more which play it too safe.
At first, ‘Champion’ sounds like it’s going somewhere interesting but ends up feeling like an outtake of the band’s passable 2015 effort American Beauty/American Psycho, and is plagued by surprisingly awful lyrics from a band once praised for their wordplay (the clichéd ‘If I can live through this, I can do anything’ sounds like poetry compared to ‘I’m a champion of the people who don’t believe in champions’). Meanwhile, ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)’ is a beautiful slice of throwback emo-pop, though one which doesn’t feel like it belongs here at all.
“‘Heaven’s Gate’, a track that allows Stump to show off his phenomenal vocals”
Fall Out Boy have never been a band to shy from experimentation, and ‘Wilson’ aside, Mania is usually at its best when the quartet stray farthest from the tried and tested pop-punk formula that catapulted them into the fringes of the mainstream. ‘Church’, one of the strongest songs on offer, leads perfectly to the irreverent gospel ‘Heaven’s Gate’, a track that allows Stump to show off his phenomenal vocals in a way not seen often enough since his 2011 solo record, Soul Punk.
That isn’t to say this experimentation is always perfect. ‘Sunshine Riptide’, wisely buried into the deep-cuts of both online and physical editions, would have been entirely forgettable were it not for Burna Boy’s (admittedly average) hip-hop verse, and what is quite probably the worst chorus to ever mar a Fall Out Boy song. The fact that this made the final cut of an album which is only ten tracks long might shed some light on the levels of inspiration the band were struggling to find at the time.
The record closes on an almost-beautiful slice of pop balladry in ‘Bishops Knife Trick’, but this tune suffers from the same problem which haunts much of Mania – it sounds like it could have been done by anyone; and in this case, it sounds like it could have been done by anyone five years ago.
“It’ll probably be better for Fall Out Boy to properly push the boat out, rather than shy into their comfort zone”
Listeners are left with a collection of mostly decent tunes interspersed with a couple of great ones – but what’s more of a problem than the quality of the tracks is that the album feels like just that, a collection of songs rather than a cohesive record that follows through with established ideas. Just as ‘strong or valid’ as American Beauty? Quite possibly, but next time it’ll probably be better for Fall Out Boy to properly push the boat out, rather than shy into their comfort zone at the first sign of disillusioning fans who will never stop hoping for another Infinity on High.
Image Courtesy of Fall Out Boy Official Website