‘Mania’ forgets precedents, misses expectations

January 26, 2018

“Mania,” American rock band Fall Out Boy’s seventh studio album, was released on Jan. 19. It is a ten song track list complete with their typical long, humorous, almost nonsensical titles such as “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” and “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T.” “Mania” is certifiably Fall Out Boy, with edgy, punk lyrics. At first listen, however, I felt nostalgic for their stronger, earlier works. For more casual listeners, “Mania” can be hard to swallow, but hardcore fans might be more satisfied with the return to eccentricity.

Stylized as “M A N I A,” the new album follows the 2015 release of their critically acclaimed “American Beauty/American Psycho.” “Uma Thurman,” lead singles “Centuries” and “Immortals,” and the theme of 2014’s Disney original movie “Big Hero Six” were just a few of the notable hits from “American Beauty/American Psycho.” Although Fall Out Boy released the lead single of “Mania,” “Young and Menace,” last year on April 27 and followed it with four more tracks, they pushed the full album back from an original release date of Sept. 15. “Mania” is expected to debut at number one in the Billboard album category based on the band’s past successes. Which new singles, if any, elevate to number one remains to be seen.

While their previous album “American Beauty/American Psycho” was more universally appealing and fit for both mainstream listeners and the band’s loyal punk fan base, “Mania” is different, despite the prevalence of Fall Out Boy’s signatures. Frontman Patrick Stump’s vocals are as powerful and striking as ever, while the group’s lyrics are the usual breed of angst and fun. Longtime Fall Out Boy bassist and lyricist, Pete Wentz, described lead single “Young and Menace” as a “palette cleanse” in an interview with pop culture magazine Rolling Stone, a phrase that aptly describes the entire work.

As usual, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the album is Fall Out Boy’s inventive titles and lyrics. In “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” the band references the reemergent interest in Tonya Harding’s alleged attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The second line of the song, “I’m about to go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee” is just one example of Fall Out Boy’s dark humor. They recall their emo roots by referencing the Addams Family in “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” with the quip “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color.” Unfortunately, this self-awareness and comedy can’t sustain the entire album. Fall Out Boy is certainly a master of reinvention, but in regard to their songwriting process, it must be said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In contrast with this humor, the band also discusses darker topics like substance abuse and even mental illness. After all, the title, “Mania,” seems like a clear nod to Pete Wentz’s experiences with bipolar disorder. “Sunshine Riptide” mentions pills kicking in, “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” alludes to drinking as self-medication, and “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” has the lyrics “the alcohol never lies, never lies.” As a whole, the album seems more gloomy than the average audience might want. Although the band has always been far from upbeat, “Mania” goes too far.

The track “Champion” has the most resilient tone in the album with the pledge “If I can live through this/I can do anything,” though some of the same songs that refer to more depressing experiences are just as motivational. Gospel-inspired tracks like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Church” show a different range of influence; however, the album lacks broad appeal. My favorites include “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes),” “Young And Menace,” and “Champion.” The album has grown on me since the first listen, but it is certainly not Fall Out Boy’s best.

“Mania” is a drastic change from previous albums, especially one as catchy as “American Beauty/American Psycho.” The album is no misstep for anyone who appreciates Patrick Stump’s voice, as his performance is impeccable. Still, for any potential future albums, Fall Out Boy might want return to generating head-bangers. Cult followers might enjoy “Mania” more the mainstream audiences, but the singles are unlikely to be chart-toppers. “Mania” is a good album but not a standout one.

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