So Much (For) Stardust – Fall Out Boy

Time hasn’t been kind to Fall Out Boy over the years. They had changed from one of the formative forces of early 2000s pop punk into a stale cardboard cutout of themselves by the time they reformed in the 2010s. Though they seemed to have figured out their personal problems, their more recent releases felt sterile, a band chugging away at overproduced pop songs made for retail workers to suffer through. After the incredibly boring American Beauty/American Psycho and the downright atrocious M A N I A, I think a lot of people had given up on Fall Out Boy. So imagine my surprise when they released their newest single, “Love From the Other Side” and it turns out to be one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. An upbeat string and piano melody that quickly transforms into thundering drums and a wicked riff, the song single-handedly brought back my optimism for Fall Out Boy’s return to form. The B Side “Heartbreak Feels So Good” also built up anticipation: echoing vocals and a synthy melody that wormed its way into your head. With such strong lead singles, this might’ve been the first time in nearly a decade that I was actually excited about a new Fall Out Boy album.

So Much (For) Stardust starts off incredibly strong with its two lead singles back to back. “Hold Me Like A Grudge” is another uptempo cut with a memorable hook and percussive claps that gets your blood pumping. Slowing down on “Fake Out” and “Heaven, Iowa”, the band showcases their dexterity in weaving together guitar-driven arena tracks. The front end of So Much (For) Stardust is on par with their pre-hiatus releases but heads in a different direction with more emphasis on electronic influences and orchestral elements. While they’ve clearly outgrown their old emo sound, the pumping instrumentation and soaring vocal harmonies are proof that it’s fused into their DNA. Even their music video for “Hold Me Like A Grudge” makes it abundantly clear that they want to return to an older sound with a flashback scene and destroying their previous albums. The instrumentation on this album is truly impressive as the band plays up their technical strengths with energetic arrangements. It’s clear that they want to retain elements of their earliest albums without sounding too dated and for the most part, they accomplish that goal and even open up possibilities for experimentation in the future. But what happens when you go back to a sound which had problems that you never fixed in the first place?

As I progressed through So Much (For) Stardust, it became glaringly obvious that while they had brought back what made them so addictive in the first place, that had its own set of problems. Part of what turned me off Fall Out Boy from their contemporaries like Green Day and My Chemical Romance was that Patrick Stump simply oversings every single hook he’s ever made. While his vocal harmonies are fun on songs like “Love From the Other Side” and “Heartbreak Feels So Good”, it’s clear that he’s doing too much with accents and a faint falsetto. It gets worse on “Hold Me Like A Grudge” where his yeah yeah’s and chorus sound like a bad Adam Levine impression. The pre-chorus falsettos on “Fake Out” also sound like a Maroon Five song and while the instrumentation is impeccable, Stump’s vocals just drown out the tight riffing. This isn’t a big problem during the first few songs of So Much (For) Stardust when the energy is more than enough to make up for his awkward vocal contortions. As the album goes on though, you can immediately tell what the weaker tracks are simply because Stump becomes the biggest focal point. “So Good Right Now” doesn’t have a lot of interesting things going on in its instrumentation and that only props up the most obnoxious aspects of the vocals. The end result is oversung harmonies that sound like a ripoff of 2010 Marianas Trench.

The spoken word interludes feel out of place with “The Pink Seashell” using Ethan Hawke’s segment from Reality Bites. While the clip itself isn’t bad in the context of the film, it feels forced with faux-deep platitudes on an album like this. Similarly, Pete Wentz’s interlude on “Baby Annihilation” feels corny: “The first time I took the mask off, just had another one on underneath”. They break the flow of the album and feel like unnecessary additions. What’s more, this just drives home a bigger problem with Fall Out Boy: their songwriting. I understand that their lyrics are usually pretty hit-or-miss but you cannot say something like “Cause everything is lit except my serotonin” with a straight face after spending your intro talking about the COVID pandemic. “What A Time To Be Alive” really could’ve been an incredible song with such groovy percussion and dancefloor horns but the lyrics are so distracting. Thankfully, the closing title track salvages the latter half of the album with a throwback to Fall Out Boy’s best melodic intuitions culminating in a choral section and an impressive performance from Andy Hurley. At the end of the day, So Much (For) Stardust is fun as long as you keep the nostalgia-tinted lenses on. Though they bring back the foundations of what made them a titan in the 2000s, it also brings back their striking weaknesses. That said, it’s an exciting direction for the band to take. They’ve finally broken out of that awkward slump they’ve had over the 2010s and it should make any Fall Out Boy fan hyped for their next releases. Their path toward a new direction is abundantly clear with the focus shifting to electronic and orchestral components. Whether they fix their identity issues by the next album remains to be seen but at the very least, So Much (For) Stardust is an impressive step in the right direction.


Must Listens: Love From The Other Side, Heartbreak Feels So Good, So Much (For) Stardust

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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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