It’s been five years since we last heard from Fall Out Boy, the pop-punk powerhouse with a penchant for sarcasm, scathingly self-conscious lyrics and ridiculous song titles. All Music Guide reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine says of the band, “One of great things about Fall Out Boy—the thing that’s infuriating and intoxicating in equal measure—is that it’s difficult to discern where their sincerity ends and their parody begins.”
That’s definitely been the case in the past with this band led by frontman Patrick Stump and lyric-writing bassist Pete Wentz. On this fifth studio effort, however, I’m less sure it’s true. Certainly there are some difficult-to-divine lyrical moments on Save Rock and Roll. But the last half-decade hasn’t been easy for the guys from Boy, and it shows. Band members went their separate ways (acrimoniously) for a while. And Wentz suffered through a painful divorce from pop singer Ashlee Simpson.
So when we hear the lyric “I cried tears you’ll never see/So f‑‑‑ you, you can go cry me an ocean/And leave me be” on the title track, it’s not much of a mystery where Wentz’s bitterness is coming from.
In his more reflective moments, Wentz occasionally pens lyrics that, while not outright positive, at least give us a glimpse into how deeply wounded his divorce has left him. On “Alone Together,” we hear, “I don’t know where you’re going/But do you got room for one more troubled soul?/I don’t know where I’m going, but I don’t think I’m going home.” Similarly wistful sadness surfaces on “Miss Missing You.” We hear, “Baby, you were my picket fence/I miss missing you now and then.” Elsewhere on that song, we get one of the album’s precious few optimistic (or at least philosophically resigned) moments: “Now you’re gone/But I’ll be OK.”
“Where Did the Party Go” ponders the difference between a real relationship and the kind we see in Hollywood: “You and me are the difference between real love and the love on TV.”
Mostly, though, Wentz’s wonderings pulsate with raw rage. “You are a brick tied to me that’s dragging me down/Strike a match, and I’ll burn you to the ground,” shrieks “The Phoenix.” And “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” seethes, “I’m just dreaming of tearing you apart.” “Where Did the Party Go” profanely laments, “You know I only wanted fun, then you got me all f‑‑‑ed up on love.”
“The Mighty Fall” spits, “Your crooked love is just a pyramid scheme/ … But if you ask me, two’s a whole lot lonelier than one/Baby, we should have left our love/In the gutter where we found it.” On “Miss Missing You,” there’s this brutal line: “Sometimes before it gets better/The darkness gets bigger/The person that you’d take a bullet for is behind the trigger.”
The album’s nastiest sexual lyrics come in that track too, courtesy of guest Big Sean, who raps about “T and A,” getting “laid,” “grinding” and sexual positions. “Death Valley” combines sex with substance abuse. And it maintains, “We’re gonna die/It’s just a matter of time/Hard times come/Good times go/ … What I’ve got will make you feel more alive/I’ll be your favorite drug, I will get you high.”
“Just One Yesterday” strangely wishes bad outcomes on angels. And guest Courtney Love unleashes an unhinged and violent spoken-word intro to “Rat a Tat”: “No thesis existed for burning cities down at such a rampant rate/No graphics and no f‑‑‑ing PowerPoint presentation/So they just DIY’d that s‑‑‑ and built their own bombs/She’s his suicide blond, she’s numb-er than gold.” Later, Stump sings, “Remember me as I was, not as I am/And I said, ‘I’ll check in tomorrow if I don’t wake up dead.'”
Then we hear an almost word-for-word repetition of those lyrics on “Alone Together,” which also alludes to drug use. “Where Did the Party Go” fuses the occult and sensuality: “Oh, I looked for your name on the Ouija board/And your naked magic, oh, dear Lord.” It also mentions menthol cigarettes. A handful of profanities (“a‑‑hole,” “h‑‑‑,” d‑‑n”) turn up elsewhere.
Save Rock and Roll, then, isn’t much about rock ‘n’ roll. And never mind that the band says the cover showing a “punk and monk” represents “the idea of old and new clashing. Tradition and change coming together.” To be sure, the title track finds Stump (along with Elton John, of all people), insisting, “I will defend the faith/Going down swinging/I will save the songs/The songs we’re singing.” And we see the band grapple with the inexorable passage of time on “Rat at Tat.”
But the vast majority of the album focuses with burning, laser-like precision on Pete Wentz’s mournful disorientation and disillusionment. Perhaps the purest distillation of those feelings also comes in “Rat a Tat”: “I sing a bitter song/ … I just don’t know where it went wrong.”
In those moments, my heart goes out to Wentz. And then his sadness veers jarringly—and frequently—into profane rage, nihilistic despair, carnal indulgence and suggestions of violence.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.