Pop punk and emo these days are thriving. Bands like Anxious, Hot Mulligan, and Ben Quad are filling the void left behind by the bands that faded away after the 2000s mall-emo craze without sounding dated.
Massive pop artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly have been accessing those sounds for gigantic hits. Paramore, one of the biggest pop punk groups of the 2000s, is arguably bigger now than they were back then. For people who have stuck with the genre… rise up, our time is now.
Fall Out Boy released a single harkening back to their prime when So Much (For) Stardust was announced. I felt myself getting excited for a band I haven’t cared about in over a decade.
“Love From The Otherside” shows the band is back to writing rock songs with chugging distorted guitars, loud crashing drums, and heart-on-the-sleeve choruses.
A sound that will have crowds fist pumping back at the band.
The intro is bit dramatic with its piano and strings but it feels earned when the band all kicks in. I don’t know if it can stand as tall as classics like “Sugar, We Are Going Down” or “Thnks fr th Mmrs”, but it’s a splash of fresh water on the face of this tired emo-enjoying millennial.
To be frank, I really didn’t enjoy FOB’s second wave of music starting with 2013’s Save Rock And Roll through 2018’s MANIA. This era occupies the same space as Imagine Dragons to me. When “rock bands” use simple hooks and chants with electro/hip-hop trends to fill arenas. It’s music that is both safe in a Walgreens as it is soundtracking an ESPN highlight reel. It’s inoffensive, it’s nothing.
I won’t deny that FOB’s big hits of the 2010’s aren’t substantial or even catchy. They were everywhere. There is a reason why they played “Centuries” between commercial breaks during every NFL game. I obviously represent a type of fan that longs for that first wave of FOB.
It feels like quite the victory to have the band sounding like an actual band again.
This feeling continues with the second single, “Heartbreak Feels So Good.” In my head-cannon, it is inspired by the infamous AMC commercial. The simple bass synths in the verses step aside for the guitar and bass to propel things forward. You want to press harder on the gas pedal when the chorus hits. Patrick Stump trades excessive cleverness for a more subtle exploration of sadness and trying to thrive in spite of it all.
“Hold Me Like A Grudge” feels like a Folie à Deux album track – which is both a compliment and critique depending on what you are looking for. It’s safe and inoffensive, but doesn’t hit as hard as the first half of the record. The 1975 inspired standout “Fake Out” displays a more restrained FOB performance and is a window into another reality where the band rejected maximalism.
This is one of the few tracks where the use of synths feels tasteful and additive to the songs rather than a production trick.
From here, the album gets a bit dodgy.
“Heaven, Iowa” and “I Am My Own Muse” sound like tracks that the band sent to Lin-Manuel Miranda after they recorded them to hint at a possible FOB-inspired musical production.
“Heaven, Iowa” eventually lets the band let loose and the song is lifted into something better than its first half. “I Am My Own Muse” sounds like a Disney villain song with its orchestral backdrop and Stump’s menacing vocal delivery. However, the Queen-inspired bridge and the chorus are interesting. The track could have benefited without the lavish orchestra.
“So Good Right Now” and “What A Time To Be Alive” could be Stump’s second stab at Soul Punk, with actual gospel and soul instrumentals intertwined with the band’s sound. The result is silly and easily the worst songs on So Much (For) Stardust.
The band may be trying to wink and have some fun, but with the nonsensical feel-good lyrics of “So Good” and “What a Time,” I’m left cringing a little. If the lyrics were exploring something other than surface-level ideas of “the world is wacky and sad!” I might appreciate the effort.
I think Paramore did it better with “Ain’t It Fun” a decade ago.
The placement of “Flu Game” late in the album feels like an intentional refresher. It’s another classic sounding song with a lot of momentum. It’s sweet and short and leads directly into the second interlude spoken-word track, “Baby Annihilation.” This combined with “The Pink Seashell” which features a Ethan Hawke monologue from the film is interesting, if a bit weird. Placed together fairly close in the track list depreciates their potential use as transitions or album-breathers.
“The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)” is a perfectly fine song. With some reeling in and less “na-na’s,” it could be lifted a couple notches into a great FOB song. As it is, I don’t think it’s catchy enough to be memorable, nor the lyrics clever enough to be important. “Heartbreak” is a similar song that just does everything better.
Which brings me to my dilemma with So Much (For) Stardust and maybe this band. Even on Take This To Your Grave, Stump’s performance is often pushing into theatrical cartoonery and the lyrics are just as tongue-in-cheek (I mean look at those song titles on those first records.) But musically, they are playing hard and really going for it. I think it helps bring together everything that they do well.
They sound big, the emotions hit and the humor and cleverness is more smirky than obtrusive. The corniness feels self-aware when they are ripping as a band.
On So Much (For) Stardust, that sentiment is just as true when the energy of the band is pushing themselves and each other. However, when the band is occupied with the pomp and circumstance of those 2010s records, Stump’s delivery and lyrics seem embarrassing while the rest of the band gets sidelined.
Maybe I’m jaded from hearing “Uma Thurman” a little too much when I worked in retail in 2017. But it’s frustrating how much this record is trying to please both eras of their history. I do wonder what a fan who’s stuck with Fall Out Boy all these years and embraced their entire discography might think of So Much (For) Stardust. Almost a billion people have streamed “Centuries”, so FOB may just be serving what is being ordered.
On paper, there are more cons than pros here (the album is kind of a mess) but I can’t help but think the successes on So Much (For) Stardust might just outweigh the failures. Perhaps the takeaway isn’t “this album is good or bad” but rather, celebrate that we finally have some great Fall Out Boy songs again after many years.