Put on your war paint: Fall Out Boy is out to reclaim their crown as your favorite guilty pleasure with Save Rock and Roll, a clutch of infectious melodies constrained by a dense commercial shell. Since the band’s 2005 breakout From Under the Cork Tree, their mainstream success has been built on a penchant for simple, penetrating melodies, self-deprecation, and the shrewd exploitation of bassist/chief lyricist Pete Wentz’s boy-band looks. The quartet’s transition from generic pop-punk to a more expansive model inclusive of electronic and orchestral elements also helped forge a distinct sound in an oversaturated genre.
The album’s 11 tracks emerge following a four-year silence with the ambitious aim of adding an emotional depth lacking in the band’s prior efforts. There are familiar tricks throughout. Opener “The Phoenix” is a frenetic blast, sampling the fourth movement of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, but its real reward lies with vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump’s urgent, pent-up delivery. There’s a trove of free-spirited numbers, including “Where Did the Party Go” and “Death Valley,” irresistibly catchy thanks to the former’s solid bass groove and the latter’s pairing of a sleek guitar riff and disco rhythm.
Frustratingly, the album’s litany of chants, claps, and emo overkill (“My heart is like a stallion, they love it more when it’s broke in”) become overbearing reminders that stoking teenage adulation remains essential to the Fall Out Boy brand. This is best exemplified by the title track, a piano ballad to which Elton John lends his timeless voice. The poignant message of a lyric like “You are what you love, not who loves you” is stymied by perpetual handclaps and digital squawks. Save Rock and Roll pools an assortment of trademark hooks to lure you in, but its commercially formulaic spine will leave you feeling like you should have known better.