Looking Back: M A N I A

Fall Out Boy’s seventh studio album MANIA dropped 3 years ago today! That’s crazy how the last few years have completely flown past. So as an album I really loved but was somewhat polarising to an already divided fanbase, I thought on its birthday it’d be a good idea to look back on the 2018 effort from the Chicago heartthrobs.

One of the leading names in the pop-punk scene of the early 2000s, Fall Out Boy have been through numerous sounds and sonic shake-ups. After their four year hiatus, their comeback album Save Rock and Roll was received tremendously well, and fans wouldn’t have to wait long for a follow up in the form of American Beauty / American Psycho. But something was missing, both great albums but stylistically very connected. AB/AP sounding like a more polished off version of Save Rock and Roll, just perhaps more anthemic. So after the non-stop tour cycle of the last two albums, work began on the next. Initially scheduled for September 2017, the album was pushed back by the band to January 2018, upon which the beast was finally laid out to the world.

I actually think the album starts off on a really high note, Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea is a brilliant fast-paced in your face track that just fills you with adrenaline. Combining this heavy rock riff with electronica in something that sounds not terribly out of place amongst the likes of T2: Trainspotting the soundtrack. Leading straight into The Last Of The Real Ones, another fasted paced but piano-driven rock anthem. After the general new sound of the singles we were treated to in the first half of 2017, The Last Of The Real Ones showed fans that Fall Out Boy were still capable of that modern pop-punk style, but still showing off some of that new sound this album had to offer. An almost off-kilter psychedelic soundscape is present right the way through this album which for Fall Out Boy, is actually something the band hasn’t really explored before, and for me was a very welcome change, people laugh at me for saying this but it was almost like a sonic maturity bled through this record and I really dig it.

HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T fuses funk like ska influences to the typical pop-punk prowess but works really well. I think it’s this track that the main issue I hear people bring up about this album starts to show, which is the over-production. Now it’s all a stylistic thing, but in some tracks my god it really works to benefit them. Like I said Stay Frosty is a blood-pumping powerhouse and I think the production really compliments the performance on that track really well. But with HOLD ME TIGHT, I think some of the guitars and even the bass get left behind especially in that first verse. But all of those problems are fixed in live performances, the bass is cranked up and the clean guitar parts are much more present. Which is the same to be said for Wilson (Expensive Mistakes). Interpolating Straight To Hell by The Clash, this was a song that was first heard live, but because of this, I think I got too attached to that rendition. The album version is great too, but I think this track in particular benefits with the rawer sound of the guitars, the bass and the drums. The pre-chorus especially just sounds absolutely majestic live but in the studio sounds like somethings holding the overall sound back which is a shame because it’s a really well-written song. A band like Fall Out Boy never really loses it’s ’emo’ identity of the era they thrived in and the line “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker colour” just screams out to the inner alternative you.

Church is just a really cool track, the bassline is absolutely monstrous, in fact, this album really allows the bass to shine a lot more than the last 2 albums which adds a new dimension to the tracks which I absolutely adore. And I mean who the hell gave Patrick Stump and crew a choir? And it works? Insane. And the breakdown makes you want to stop the world. It’s beefy and begs for your attention, and Stump’s vocals on this track are great, really showing off that soul voice of his.

Starting the second half of the album is Heaven’s Gate, a pretty ballad with a kick. I think it’s probably one that gets some of the least attention given to, but really I think that’s generally how the second half of MANIA as a whole is lit. For one of the slower tracks on the record, it has some of the cooler drum fills drummer Andy Hurley has to offer, perhaps the softened tone of the verse allows for intricate drum parts to pop out more than they would in the mix of a more energy driven song like Stay Frosty. Champion swiftly comes in next and to be honest, I really like this album all the way through so I can really appreciate what the boys were going for, especially here with Champion but I also get why people weren’t so keen. It’s very clearly the Centuries of this LP, very radio-friendly. Although don’t shoot me but I think I prefer this over Centuries… I mean yes the lyrical content (choruses aside) isn’t as diverse as Centuries, but on a performance and songwriting side, I think it just pops out here better, and the vocals Stump lays down especially on that outro is just killer.

Up next is Sunshine Riptide which I think is a really interesting track musically. Combining psychedelic sounds with those of reggae and hip-hop especially in the way of the flow of Stump’s vocal performance accompanied by featuring artist Burna Boy, who’s verse really grooves with the tracks vibe so well, with the bassline in this track being especially delicious. But I think because it is so new to the scope of Fall Out Boy’s sound, it leaves it in the firing range of “this isn’t pop-punk, boo”. Which is perfectly valid, but I think for a band that’s been around for nearly 20 years, to still be able to experiment with sounds and explore other genres after being shoehorned into such a specific scene, is a testament to the guys. However speaking of experimentation next is Young and Menace, the lead or ‘first song we had finished so we put this one out’ single (which doesn’t have as good a ring to it).

The track starts with some really eerie verses, low register vocals, clean chorus drenched guitars heralding this nightmarish psychedelic vibe that perked my interest very quickly, building to an EDM chorus. Which yeah not the obvious musical transition, and was extremely polarising at the time. It grew on me between its release and the rest of the album following the year after, but I completely get why fans didn’t respond well to it. You take a formula of a sound and out of the blue do something so different that it is almost unrecognisable as the band who released Sugar, We’re Goin Down. The vocal chopped and pitched vocals in the chorus being very out of the ordinary for a band like Fall Out Boy, at least to this scale, but the band said they needed a palate cleanser, the emphasis on the colour purple and the entire shift in sound, it walked so the rest of MANIA could run. The left turn of a track like Young and Menace after the double success of their last two albums just solidified the presence that Fall Out Boy are able to do anything, and whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, it definitely solidified the start of a new era for the band.

The albums closer Bishop’s Knife Trick is genuinely one of my favourite tracks the band have ever put out. This really is taking the emotions of classic Fall Out Boy and transforming it into the modern world. Led by a piano and a jangly guitar swirling that psychedelic sound around your head before exploding into a hunk of a chorus, blowing you out into space. The darker tone of the lyrics really bringing out this darker and more mature sound this record tries to rub off on you within its half-hour playtime, it’s just fantastic. The chorus is just addictive and makes you long for the days of concerts where you could scream at the top of your lungs to the songs that got you through your teens. It’s music video being a direct parody of their decade-old song Thnks Fr Th Mmrs‘ video, which I sort of feel is a bit of a detribute to the song because of the abrupt tone of its interruptions, but maybe otherwise it would have come across ‘too deep’ or something who knows.

And that’s it, that’s the album, it’s not particularly long, but it does stick itself out as a solid staple in the band’s discography. Looking back on MANIA I still really like it, if anything over the years I’ve grown fonder of it. There’s a saying people come up with for things like this which is being “ahead of its time” which I’m not quite sure of my position on that, but I do think that MANIA was overshadowed by the high train of radio success Fall Out Boy had in their early days and in the first few years of their comeback. But the band said this was never meant to be a radio album, and how can you stay inspired by churning out the same stuff. People did treat Folie A Deux harshly at the time, but now a decade later it’s considered by many some of their best work. Hell MANIA was nominated for a Grammy, not that Grammy’s really mean anything nowadays, but I think MANIA deserved a better reception than the one it got.

I hope you enjoyed this look back regardless of your stand on the album, and with a lot of albums big birthdays happening this year (from Arctic Monkeys, Blur, The 1975 and many more), do expect more of these to come and let us know of any albums you think we should cover.

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