Fall Out Boy originally intended to release Mania (stylized M A N I A) last fall, but primary songwriters Patrick Stump (guitar/vocals) and Pete Wentz (bass/lyrics) realized something important in July: They didn’t like the album. “It doesn’t sound like Fall Out Boy,” Stump recalled thinking.
Fall Out Boy hasn’t sounded much like itself lately, at least since 2015’s grating American Beauty/American Psycho (and probably 2013’s solid but transitional Save Rock And Roll). While the Chicago quartet was always a pop band at heart, it reached another level with American Beauty’s airless overproduction.
The needle remains buried in the red on album opener “Young And Menace,” one of the two original Mania songs that survived the cull. It sounds like Fall Out Boy by way of Deadmau5, with Hans Zimmer-esque drops and pitch-shifted vocals that turn Stump into a chipmunk. It bodes poorly for the rest of the album, but oddly, Mania steps back from that—a bit. “Champion,” the other survivor, stays close to its rock foundation without layering on a bunch of distractions. The same goes for “The Last Of The Real Ones,” which is about as straightforward as Fall Out Boy gets these days. (Both boast massive choruses, naturally.)
The band stretches out on other tracks, such as the Latin tinges of “Hold Me Tight Or Don’t” and the ’50s torch-song sound of “Heaven’s Gate.” “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” has an opening that recalls M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” to a distracting degree, with lyrics that are a little taken with their ostensible cleverness. (“I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color,” Stump repeats ad infinitum.) That has always dogged Fall Out Boy, but perhaps reaches its nadir on “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” where Stump repeatedly sings, “Are you smelling that shit?” before affecting a French accent to add “Eau du résistance!”
Since around 2007’s Infinity On High, the key to enjoying Fall Out Boy has been letting go of their pop-punk past and embracing the pop band that always hid in plain sight. That was a chore on American Beauty/American Psycho, but less so on Mania. As endorsements go, that’s pretty qualified.