Rating: NNNN (out of 5) Sound: Fall Out Boy creates a pop-rock love letter to fans, new and old, that encapsulates their two-decade-long career. If you like: Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance, Green Day Best track:Fake Out
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ON SO MUCH (FOR) STARDUST, pop-punk legends Fall Out Boy stick to the more pop-rock forward sound of their post-hiatus albums while bringing back the vulnerable and cryptic lyrics of their early days.
The quartet from Wilmette, IL, came from Chicago’s hardcore punk scene and became an underground success with their 2003 debut album, Take This To Your Grave. The band released three massively successful albums — From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Infinity On High (2007) and Folie à Deux (2008) — before going on hiatus in 2009. The band returned in 2013 and have since released three more albums to a more polarizing reception.
So Much (For) Stardust starts off with a bang with the first track and lead single, Love From the Other Side. Opening with a haunting orchestral piano arrangement, the song transitions into an anthem, with driving drums, earworm-y guitar riffs and one of the most memorable choruses on the album. The juxtaposition of the calm piano with the more urgent instrumentation keeps the song’s pacing steady. Lead singer Patrick Stump reflects on Fall Out Boy’s journey and on how far the band has come, remarking that they’ve made it through and are now “sending [their] love from the other side of the apocalypse.”
The second single, Heartbreak Feels So Good, echoes the same themes as the previous track. The song title references the band making it big by writing songs about heartbreak. Again, the lyrics reference the unpredictable road their career has taken. Sonically, this song feels closer to the material from their last couple of albums, with synths and sing-a-long whoa-ohs while the personal lyrics and soaring chorus keep the single from feeling like a throwaway.
Fake Out sounds closest to some of Fall Out Boy’s most well-known material — off of their third album Infinity On High — and it’s the standout track on this album. The reverb-coated guitars and snare-heavy drums invoke a sense of nostalgia, especially images of a high school dance.
The messaging is consistent with previous songs, with the band commenting on the commitment that comes with fame. They just want to make music and don’t want to be in the spotlight, which wasn’t always possible. Especially when they were one of the biggest bands in the world in the mid 2000s.
Fall Out Boy might have wanted So Good Right Now and What a Time to Be Alive to be lighthearted, late-’70s-influenced musical moments on an otherwise emotionally charged album, but they fall flat. The sudden shift to this overly sweet sound cheapens the overall feel of an album that is otherwise a retrospective of the band’s career.
So Much (For) Stardust’s two interludes, The Pink Seashell and Baby Annihilation, give the album breathing room while reinforcing core themes of growing up, experiencing loss and how luck is as much a part of success as hard work — which is especially relevant for a band that came onto the scene at the height of the pop-punk craze.
The last song and the album’s namesake, So Much For Stardust, is both the best and worst closer, depending on how you look at it. It’s either a nihilistic admittance of defeat that a successful, 20-year career hasn’t solved the band’s problems, or it’s them having a mature outlook on fame and realizing that being a rock star isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
The verses keep a relaxed pace as Stump muses about burnout and the band’s ongoing anxieties. As the lyrics get more desperate, so does the instrumentation. The drums speed up and crash into the chorus, not letting up the entire way through, before culminating in a gospel chorus that compliments Stump’s voice well.
So Much (For) Stardust may not be the return to form that many Fall Out Boy fans were hoping for, but its charm and respect for the band’s history are undeniable. To a fickle audience that has, at times, both embraced and shunned the band, this album is clear in its message that it was never about the heartbreak, the fame or “selling out.” It was always about making music among four friends.