Fall Out Boy has been in an unpleasant place since their big comeback in 2013, at least if you ask me. While their post-reunion albums have received a consistent amount of critical and commercial success, Save Rock and Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho were overall not very good, as someone who spent a decent amount of his middle school years marinating in their breakthrough albums. Even taking them on their own merits, the best I could say about their last two records is that they’re marginally better than any current period Maroon 5 record, going down a similar path of watering down a full band project with pop/EDM trends to the point of functioning as a solo project for the lead singer. The same can also be said of their newest release Mania, which was originally scheduled for last September before being delayed to 2018, as the album felt “very rushed,” according to the band. Well truth be told, I hate to imagine what that earlier version sounded like, because even after the delay, Mania still sounds like it was rushed out the door.
The lead single “Young and Menace” serves as the opening track and immediately raises many red flags. The obvious point of contention is the flow of the song, utilizing soft verses with moody piano chords and building drum/vocal performances before exploding into an irritating EDM chorus with choppy squealing vocal samples. This annoyance is made worse by the incredibly predictable song structure and the fact that the chorus drags on for what seems like an ungodly long period of time. While Patrick Stump’s vocal performances sound par for the course, the lyrics feel oddly limp and unmemorable, with the only standout line being “I think god is gonna have to kill me twice, kill me twice like my name was Nikki Sixx.” It’s the worst possible way to start off an album.
“Champions” follows suit, and while it’s significantly less obnoxious than the opener, it’s still supremely unimpressive and uninteresting. The spaghetti western-style guitar leads in the verse sound decent, but the structure is also repetitive beyond belief and the lyrics are even less special, being a generic inspirational anthem to those feeling disillusioned with life, which leads to one of my biggest points of contention with Mania. One of the most divisive aspects of Fall Out Boy’s music has always been the unusual and absurd lyrical pastiches they come up with, something that was especially prominent on their last record (I still don’t know what “Uma Thurman” was supposed to be about). Perhaps in an attempt to rectify this issue, the lyrics on Mania are incredibly simplified and streamlined to the point of generic, relying on obvious metaphors with scant few memorable lines.
Tracks like “The Last of the Real Ones” use incredibly simplistic celestial language to describe how much the narrator loves one particular woman, while “Church” and “Heaven’s Gate” are reliant on religious descriptions so obvious you’re probably already transcribing the lyrics in your head while reading this. The minor handful of lyrics that actually do stand out can be counted on one hand, and sadly they’re not that much better. “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” quotes “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” straight from Wednesday Addams, which is as cliché a reference as could be made in this song, and the awkward lines about stitching and fuzz in “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T” are not appealing in the slightest. Perhaps most nonsensical of all is “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” featuring the line “I’m about to go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee,” a reference which makes absolutely no sense considering that Nancy Kerrigan’s knee was broken by a hitman hired by Harding’s ex-husband, with Harding’s crime being the interference of the investigation and not direct assault herself.
Fall Out Boy knows they can Google this stuff, right? They released a movie about this last month and everything.
Aside from lyrical deficiencies, the music is woefully sub-par. The same issues seem to permeate throughout every track, from incredibly repetitive structures to riding pop trends in the most obnoxious manner possible. “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” has some annoyingly wailing vocals mixed in with trap drums and ethereal guitars that more resemble a bad DJ remix of a Mac Demarco tune than anything else. “Church” makes some decent use of church gospel choirs, but the similarly processed drums lack any impact and the chorus drags longer than any other song on the record. “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T,” which may be the worst song on the record apart from “Young and Menace,” takes a limp shuffling rhythm and tosses together a curdled mix of obnoxious singing/whistling, barely noticeable syncopated guitar riffs, and similarly suffocated steelpan drums. All of this comes together in a way that sounds like a really bad attempt at crafting a mainstream dancehall track, like if Fall Out Boy was covering something from Drake’s More Life.
Fall Out Boy may have delayed Mania because they felt it needed more time to be polished and fleshed out, but even then the album is a waste of however much time went into it. Lazy song structure, lyrics that are incredibly simplistic and uninspired, annoying vocal performances, and being drenched in so much pop nonsense that half the time you forget this is supposed to be a band. While “Heaven’s Gate” might be the least annoying track on the album with its laid-back folksy blues vibe, I can’t imagine what purpose this album could serve to any audience. Long-time fans will be displeased with the band’s further musical degradation, and their sound doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from any other currently active pop act. Maybe it’s time for Fall Out Boy to hang it up again… possibly for good this time.
Final Verdict: Skip it. There’s just no point to this album or any of the songs on it.
Mania is available from Island Records on CD, vinyl, digital download, and streaming services. Check out Fall Out Boy on Facebook, Twitter, and their official website.