Eight years ago, most pop-punk bands would have swallowed their pride and bubblegum to trade places with Fall Out Boy. But ever since 2008′s Folie à Deux, an expansive, swaggering disc rightly acclaimed by critics but received by many fans with a distaste ordinarily reserved for post-Green Album Weezer, even FOB hasn’t shown much interest in being FOB: Singer/tune-writer Patrick Stump reinvented himself as an R&B crooner with 2011′s even sharper Soul Punk, which, of course, really brought out the haters; guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley went metal with the Damned Things, whose 2010 album Ironiclast completely bombed; lyricist/bassist Pete Wentz lost a guitarist and a singer before his electronic Black Cards could even release an album.
So Fall Out Boy are back with a chip on their shoulders and mixed messages in their music: They’re pissed at the folks who wouldn’t accept deviations from their original sound, yet suddenly they’re out to rescue it, as if they’re now the sole emo survivors. “How’d it get to be only me?/ Like I’m the last damn kid still kicking that still believes,” Stump sings in the final, title track featuring an Elton John as strikingly solemn as Courtney Love is very much herself in the preceding “Rat a Tat.”
As those cameos suggest, Save Rock and Roll ain’t no back-to-basics album. It starts out with an orchestral flourish on the galloping and flat-out fantastic “Phoenix,” and on the way to its piano-lead and even more symphonic finale, there’s white-knuckled relentlessness: Buzzsaw guitars blare while the zinger-packed songs — now credited to the entire band — pile on the hooks. A proven master at bridging the pop/rock gap, producer Butch Walker pumps even the most delicate filigree to stadium-sized proportions. Fall Out Boy has always been dramatic, but here they sometimes lapse into desperation, as if what they’re truly intent on saving is their fanbase.