Album Review: Fall Out Boy’s “MANIA“, the purple wave has hit!
pur·ple noun, adjective 1. The color intermediate between red and blue
2. The visual manifestation of MANIA, seventh studio album by American rock band, Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy has been teasing its fans with promises of this album for almost a year now. Cryptic messages posted on the band’s social media accounts began circulating in April 2017, riddled with purple emojis. Then came the announcement of a new album, MANIA, slated for a September 2017 release, and a string of tour dates. A few months later, they drop one or two completed tracks, Patrick Stump postpones the rest of the album, the MANIA Tour (part one) completes it’s run with a setlist of singles and fan favorites from previous albums. All of this, yet still, no new album.
On January 19, 2017, the wait came to an end. MANIA had arrived.
If you look all of Fall Out Boy’s previous discography, you’ll notice that all the cover artwork has a distinct color tint, it’s either red or blue. Take This To Your Grave is blue, From Under The Cork Tree is red, Infinity On High is blue- so on and so forth. MANIA breaks this cycle by presenting itself as something unique. It’s both a literal and symbolic mix of all the albums that have come before it. MANIA is purple.
The cover artwork truly reflects what’s inside. This album sounds and feels like something familiar and something unknown all at once. It’s the perfect mix of old and new sounds, lyrics, and themes. Best of all, it provides the spirit of Fall Out Boy we’ve all come to know and love, but it doesn’t feel recycled. It feels revisited from a different place and seriously zoned into what makes it work. MANIA gets it right.
To truly understand this album, where they are, you must consider where they’ve been. It’s a long story, you can read my take on it here.
The beginning of MANIA was marked by the release of the first single “Young And Menace”. It’s a slow, dark piano piece detailing the misadventures of the band’s youth, which shoots off into heavy electronics in the chorus. The sound of this song threw fans for a loop when it first came out, but in hindsight, it was a genius move. The sound of “Young and Menace” is not representative of the album, but the theme clearly is. This track ushered in the new era with a message, “We were young, and we made mistakes. But now we’re back to revisit them from a very different point of view”.
“Champion” was the second single, featuring more of the expected post-hiatus Fall Out Boy sound (emphasis on guitar and drums, with Patrick Stump’s dynamic vocals), and just as much fighting spirit. Sticking to the MANIA theme brought forth by “Young and Menace”, “Champion” proclaims that Fall Out Boy’s back (with a madness), ready to take on anything that comes their way. This song was the anthem of MANIA for a bit thanks to a touring campaign called “Champion Of The MANIA Tour”. However, as iconic as “Champion” has become, I personally don’t believe it should be considered the overarching anthem of the album, since it lacks the complexity and depth at the heart of MANIA. Although the chorus is packed with power phrases like “If I can live through this, I can do anything”, it’s repetition and style is a little bit too familiar, leaving something to be desired.
Moving past the singles and onto the entire album, “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” is the fast-paced, super strong opening track. The electric drum intro sets the stage just right for the intense vocals, reminiscent of American Beauty/American Psycho’s “Novocaine”. The lyrics are sharp and quick-witted, combining everything from infamous Tonya Harding references to french wordplay. Double meanings and interpretations hidden in songs seem to be a trend with MANIA, and “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” starts it off. What appears to be standard hype music attached to an absurdist title is actually lyricist Pete Wentz’s personal fight song. While we are aware he’s dealing with inner turmoil, he’s no longer internalizing his rage, but rather using it as a weapon to go out and challenge the disillusions and problems he sees in the world. Wentz delivers the bittersweet idea of self hatred plus action in this stellar opening track, reminding us that “Some princes don’t become kings”, they become warriors.
MANIA also graces us with something we haven’t really ever seen before. Genuine Fall Out Boy love songs. 2003 classic “Grand Theft Autumn” and Save Rock ‘N Roll’s “Alone Together”, “Miss Missing You” and “Young Volcanoes” are debatable contenders, but there’s always been something missing. Butchered happy endings, cynicism, and overpowering themes of freedom always stepped over the idea of love, making it difficult to consider any of them swoon-worthy. MANIA breaks this curse with “Last Of The Real Ones” and “Church”. These tracks use powerful celestial and religious imagery, respectively, to illustrate the magnitude of the singer’s devotion. “Church” stuns listeners with Stump’s breathtaking vocals which range from soft and sultry to high and soulful. The track’s beautiful chorus and signature Pete Wentz metaphors paired with Stump’s impeccably crisp diction make this song a winner, and very, very Fall Out Boy. “Church” hits all the right marks on sound, lyrics, and theme, and is easily the crown jewel of MANIA.
“Heaven’s Gate” has a creative title listed right after “Church”, and is entirely welcomed as something unlike anything we’ve ever heard from this band before. It starts with a full soulful acapella note from Stump, who then brings it down into something reminiscent of 50s/60s doo-wop. The whole song feels just right, not too hard, not too soft, and just the right tempo to match the emotional lyrics. This is one of those songs off MANIA that’s subjective, and totally open to interpretation. I originally understood it as the singer being hopelessly in love with someone and not receiving enough in return. Lyrics like “I got dreams of my own/but I want to make yours come true” and “Everything else is a substitute for your love” lead me to think he’s begging for more emotional depth since he’s already given so much of himself. However, after listening a few more times, I found that this song could be taken in a very different direction. This song could be about a person who is so wonderful, who makes the singer better and so happy they’re the redeeming quality in his life. Their angelic qualities and loving relationship could make up for the singer’s dark past and literally give him a boost over Heaven’s Gate so they could be together forever. There’s millions more ways the song could be taken, and that makes it very special. “Heaven’s Gate” is a beautiful ballad that expands Fall Out Boy’s musical repertoire, but still manages to capture MANIA’s essence.
“Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” is a crowd pleaser. This new song was played on the first round of the MANIA Tour unannounced, leaving fans on the edge of their seats and desperate to have more than just a memory of the melody. “Wilson” gives off strong Folie À Deux vibes with it’s self-loathing words, catchy guitar riff, and defining lyric “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color”. This is a solid MANIA track, as it incorporates aspects that Fall Out Boy’s had success with before, while still evolving the lyrics and sound to better match their current position as artists. Although the long-awaited studio version synthesizes all the rough edges and agitated vocals, it takes away a lot of the energy of the live performance. Make no mistake, “Wilson” is good, but there’s a special transformative spark when it’s played live that you just can’t find on the album.
“HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T” and “Sunshine Riptide” unfortunately get lost in the mix. These experimental tracks venture into new musical styles inspired by Latin and hip hop, and although they have some good lyrics, you have to work to find them. For some reasons, these two don’t come as easily as the rest of MANIA, and although they’re not my favorites, I respect/understand the concept. MANIA is not all about sticking to what you know, a huge part of it is also experimenting with new ideas. I personally believe these songs show us the band is not getting lazy or falling into a repetitive trap. They also remind us MANIA deserves mad props for utilizing Stump’s incredible vocal range to its full capacity, showcasing multiple styles of music on one album.
“Bishop’s Knife Trick” is the perfect ending track to this mixture, and deserves honorable mention for being the one other song (besides “Church”) that perfectly embodies the spirit of MANIA. It ties up the album in a way that is a little twisted, yet hopeful and deeply stunning. “Bishop’s Knife Trick” is monumental, and there’s a lot to unpack. You can read our in-depth analysis of it here. It’s soft intro and double-sided lyrics are a masquerade, trying to disguise a beautiful song about Wentz’s ongoing battle with mental illness, but power to push through in the end. The true meaning of this song is meant to be overlooked, but it you listen just a little harder, you’ll discover one of the most moving messages Fall Out Boy has ever created.
MANIA is purple, in every sense of the word. It’s a mix of red and blue, a fusion of all the albums that have come before it. It’s a little twisted and a little lighthearted and completely real. Fall Out Boy has cashed in on life and unlocked the secret to their full potential with this album, and they’re sending a message. One that is equal parts inspiring and a testament to the band’s standing. A message to their fans, a message to the world. It says: “I still struggle. We all do. We won’t ever be able to escape all the problems, but you know what? That’s okay. I’ve held on for this long and seen enough beautiful things to this is not the end. We’re not broken. This is not the madness between two. There’s no real end in sight because we’re going to get through this. We’re Champions. Let’s fuck shit up.”.