Maximalism has been Fall Out Boy's stock-in-trade since day one. Even when they were just a pop punk band from Chicago, they were aiming for the (non-existent) rafters. So it's surprising that it's taken the band so long in incorporate elements of EDM, the most maximalist music in recent memory. That they'd do so when even the biggest DJs are backing away from such déclassé trickery as bass drops just feels desperate. Yet, this is what greets listeners dipping into the band's seventh LP, M A N I A.
Opener "Young and Menace" starts promising enough before moving into a Britney Spears interpolation and then the aforementioned drops. The song sounded like a hot-mess when it was released as an album teaser last spring and time has done little to blunt that feeling. "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea" manages the fusion more adroitly, while singles "Champion" and "The Last of the Real Ones," which follow more conventional FOB patterns without sounding like retreads, both go a long way to redeeming that misstep and remain highlights among the record's ten tracks.
Fall Out Boy's strength has always been their ability to incorporate divergent styles (R&B, pop) and filter them through the band's collective voice. It's how they broke out of the pop punk ghetto and it's what's kept them relevant in the eyes of critics and fans alike.
Parts of M A N I A ("Church," "Heaven's Gate") retain that delicate balance, but too often the band fall prey to the conventions of the music from which they're borrowing. The electronic whistle that floats through "Hold Me Tight or Don't" and the sing-song verses of "Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)" both sound like the band are chasing trends that were beaten to death back in 2016. Still, working with industry heavyweights like Pharrell, Sia and early Weeknd collaborator Illangelo, Fall Out Boy's versions are generally superior to many of takes that managed to scrape the bottom of the top 40.
Maybe delivering top-shelf takes on proven sounds is the best we can hope for from a mainstream rock band in 2018 (see also the far more shameless and vacuous Maroon 5). To step out musically is to drop out commercially and though frequently redundant, M A N I A remains a fun listen. For well over a decade Fall Out Boy had their cake and ate it too. Why they — and by extension we — should settle remains unclear. (Island)