As Fall Out Boy songs like “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and “Dance, Dance” made waves on the radio back in 2005, the Chicago band became synonymous with cutesy, chirpy pop punk — too sweet to truly be punk. And yet that reputation is not entirely fair.
Put to one side the fact that most of the bandmembers were previously a part of the Windy City’s hardcore punk scene with other groups; this outfit has always been a little smarter and less superficial than other bands marked with the pop-punk tag. And since returning from a four-year break in 2013, the musicians haven’t been afraid to experiment with their sound.
“I think the break was helpful for us all as people,” says bassist Pete Wentz. “We were doing the band for ten years, and we basically started as...not kids, but we weren’t adults. Taking a break allowed us to have some perspective with each other, see each other as adults and figure that out. It’s interesting, because it’s been sixteen years [since the band formed], but probably in the last eight or nine years of it, some of the stuff has changed so quickly. Sonically, music has changed so much, and the way people listen to music, too — it’s changed so fast that it’s something everyone’s had to adapt to.”
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Fall Out Boy’s seventh studio album, and the third since the reunion, will be released in January. It's called Mania, and Wentz believes that it might be the band’s most ambitious record to date. We’ve had a taste thanks to the singles “Young and Menace,” “Champion” and “The Last of the Real Ones,” and the bassist thinks that we’re hearing the benefits of a band hitting its stride after the one-two punch of previous albums American Beauty and Save Rock and Roll.
“In some ways, I think of [those albums] as one really long record cycle, just because they were back-to-back and super-fast,” Wentz says. “When we went in to do Mania, we realized that [we] were making something that we didn’t completely love. So we scrapped that and pushed the record back a few months. We’ve worked with some cool producers, and I feel like a Fall Out Boy record in 2017 can be anything, but it can’t be middle of the road. That just doesn’t work in 2017 for Fall Out Boy.”
The band has been working with the likes of Butch Walker and Illangelo (the Weeknd) to ensure that “middle of the road” is the furthest thing from the minds of listeners. The act is pushing itself, swerving out of its genre lane, and that can only be a good thing. Naturally, the crazy state of the world has had an effect, too.
“I think the world is a crazy place right now, and I don’t think we went and addressed it head-on in a super-direct way, because I don’t know that anyone listening to the record needs yet another hot take,” Wentz says. “That’s what people get all day long, and so I think the record is about the flaws that we all have, and the way those flaws interconnect us. Everybody has them. I think about them all the time when I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm. Oh, my God, it all makes sense. I feel all these things.”
Again though, Mania represents Fall Out Boy at its most experimental. For that reason, Wentz and his bandmates have been delighted with the largely positive response that the new singles have earned from fans, even if he’s been ignoring the critics.
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“When Patrick played me ‘Young and Menace,’ I said that we’ve got to put this song out, but it’s going to be polarizing,” Wentz says. “We really were prepared for that. The one that I didn’t predict the reaction to was ‘The Last of the Real Ones.’ I was playing songs in my car for my eight-year-old, and he can give you big answers about whether a song’s gonna be a smash or not. The subtle stuff, he doesn’t always get, but he loved that song, and I thought that was weird because it’s not like a Top 40 song.”
This is a group of musicians comfortable enough to push each other artistically and secure enough to feel that they can push their boundaries as far as they wish to and the fans will still be hanging around to hear what they come up with. The fact that the lineup has been incredibly stable (the last change saw drummer Andy Hurley join in 2003) has only helped.
“Even more so than artistically, when you’re in the trenches, it’s like a morale thing,” Wentz says. “Knowing that these three other people have gone through the same thing and knowing that we can yell at each other — it’s a very sibling thing. Sometimes it’s been helpful for the creative process, but sometimes we fall into distinct roles, and in some ways that can be a hindrance. But since we took the break, we wanted to be open about talking to each other. Since then, we’ve been a lot better about it.”
Fall Out Boy, with Blackbear and Jaden Smith, 7 p.m. Friday, November 10, Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, 303-405-1100.