Were The Beatles a pop band or a rock band? ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, that quintessential pop single would suggest the former but ‘A Day In The Life’ or ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ are different beasts altogether. The same could be debated about The Kinks and The Killers, or Bowie and Bolan. It is an interesting but ultimately meaningless debate, one that has always surrounded Fall Out Boy since they became one of the first rock bands to fully engage the collaborative aspect of pop music. At times accused of that peculiarly old-fashioned crime of ‘selling out’, (as if most musicians aren’t generally keen on having their records listened to), over seven albums they have perfected the art of juggling a rock aesthetic with killer pop hooks and melodies.
M A N I A continues a journey that started back in 2003 with Take This To Your Grave, one that saw them crowned as emo kings but then also fully embrace the world of pop in a way that has since been imitated but never quite matched. The delay of several months in the release of this album may have set alarm bells ringing (the band felt it was “rushed” and not quite right), but any doubts are truly needless. Whatever the reason for the pause, the results are a peerless example of pop and rock fully crashing into each other.
Opening track ‘Young and Menace’ was the first single to be released from M A N I A, and it remains the “hard restart” that the band felt was necessary after American Beauty/American Psycho’s runaway success. With a namecheck for Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx next to a cheeky lyrical nod to Britney Spears, there couldn’t be a more ideal distillation of the musical DNA for the modern Fall Out Boy. With an EDM quality in its energy and rush, it is a perfect introduction to an album that showcases a sense of ambition and huge sound throughout all ten tracks. ‘Champion’ (co-written with Sia Furler) could be Kanye West, a triumphant and defiant anthem with its fists held firmly in the air (“If I can live through this, I can do anything”). It could easily soundtrack a Rocky Balboa or superhero movie. There is a dizzying acceleration through the gears during the first half of M A N I A, Patrick Stump threatening to “Go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee” in the agitated slab of electrorock ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’ before the surging rush of ‘The Last Of The Real Ones’.
There is a clear sense of a band eyeing up the competition around them, and recognising the need to keep ahead of the chasing pack. In the last few years, the likes of Imagine Dragons, Bastille and the returning Paramore are increasingly following in Fall Out Boy’s footsteps by not treating pop as a dirty word. But M A N I A takes it all to the logical next step. These are MASSIVE songs that are destined to pack out any stadium big enough to hold them, boasting choruses that Taylor Swift would sell her soul for – ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)’, complete with its M.I.A. sample being one perfect, thrilling example.
Before there is even the merest hint of a template to be followed, the second half moves into even more diverse styles. With its gothic choral samples slicing through, ‘Church’ fittingly takes the listener there before it moves into ‘Heaven’s Gate’, a track that answers the often pondered question of what a rock band version of Boyz II Men would sound like. The sheer ambition on display with this album is breathtaking, with so many ideas and concepts battling for space that if one doesn’t work for you another will soon come along. It is at once like nothing that Fall Out Boy have done, and at the same time it is exactly how a Fall Out Boy album in 2018 should sound like. By the time the soft reggae beat of ‘Sunshine Riptide’ washes over you, M A N I A is in a very different place to where it started. And if that isn’t the neatest summation of this very special band, then what is?