Let’s just cut to the chase. It’s been at least five years since Fall Out Boy released a record worth its salt, and coming up to a decade since they were a truly meaningful part of cultural conversation. Having reformed back in 2012, the four-piece have moved ever further from their Get Up Kids-inspired emo roots in favour of becoming a pop band with some metalheads in it. The group, who formerly could weave hip-hop and R&B influences into misunderstood, antagonistic anthems, have abandoned this careful recipe in exchange for the lowest common denominator dirge the contemporary charts have to offer. Mania, their seventh LP, represents the ultimate nadir in the group’s back catalog. Within its 35 minutes, it only inspires tedium and frustration. There is no identity here, simply the sounds of four men who are desperately and shamelessly attempting to regain the significance they once knew.
The best point of comparison is Panic! At The Disco’s 2016 effort, Death of a Bachelor. Both involve emo icons bringing in guest writers to “tidy” up their sound and pad out the track listing. The difference is that Panic’s Brandon Urie used these professionals to help him explore a Michael Béble reminiscent brand of crooning, Disney theatricality, and unashamed cheese while devoting the second half of the album to material much more his speed. That project allowed the definition of the artist to shift and expand but also let him retain what made him unique. On Mania, Fall Out Boy unfortunately wind up doing the exact opposite. Take ‘The Last of The Real Ones’ which was co-written with Sia. Outside of Patrick Stump’s familiar vocals, there is nothing here that belongs to the band. This is a Sia song. It has all of her hallmarks but none of her charms. Worse still is ‘Hold Me Tight or Don’t’, which doesn’t so much harken back to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ as it does outright steal it. Just a few weeks ago Lana Del Rey was allegedly being sued for a less blatant plagiarism than these boys have committed.
But even on its own merits, the album is sub-par. Fall Out Boy were always fans of the more is more approach. It’s evident from the first notes of ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’ that this will be no exception as everything is turned right up to 11. In certain cases, this maximalism can yield music which is exhilarating and overbearing in equal measure. But there are no dynamics at play here.
The sheer loudness of it all forces the songs into one nondescript blob of overproduced pop from which little can be extracted. Now with that said, it almost worsens the heartbreak of all of this when there is the occasional moment where something wonderful is brewing underneath. There’s a particularly good gospel section in the middle of ‘Church’ which tantalises the promise of real excitement. It’s striking and very well judged, recapturing the genre unpredictably which made their earlier experiments with hip-hop so intriguing. Unfortunately, they follow up this sliver of quality with a cod reggae track which would be completely indistinguishable from any other cut here were it not for the perplexing appearance of Burna Boy and the bass being mixed too loudly.
You really shouldn’t bother. There’s no song on this that you haven’t heard on the Hot 100 a thousand times before on display. Your time is worth no more than the derivative slop that is Mania. Just go listen to From Under The Cork Tree instead. Will Murphy