And then came “Mania”, where the foundation for Fall Out Boy’s new direction finally collapsed.
“Mania” was announced alongside the release of the album’s first single “Young and Menace” and a lengthy post from Pete Wentz about the album‘a concept - despite the album not being written yet, and this concept basically being dropped by the time of the album’s release. “Young and Menace” was…well, if I’m being honest, probably one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, and it seems like most people agreed with me to some degree because, despite being one of the last mainstream “rock” bands still able to chart, the song didn’t catch on at all, with only the band’s most devoted and mostly young fans really defending it. After a few months and another underperforming single, Fall Out Boy announced they were pushing the date back, noting that “Young and Menace” was the only song they had written when they announced “Mania” and they wanted time to make sure it was an album they were proud of. Some thought that maybe they were using this time to course correct after the underperforming singles, but if that’s the case it did not come through at all in the final product.
The first thing you’ll notice, immediately from “Mania’s” opening seconds, is that the production is awful. It’s loud, compressed to hell, stacked with too many tracks, barely present low end, drums slamming through the mix, trying to capitalize on the trends of 2010’s pop music, and it’s TACKY and GAUDY. The production was handled by Fall Out Boy and a number of other producers (one of them, Jesse Shatkin, also mixing the record), but the one I blame for this record’s turn out is Butch Walker, who, in my opinion, is the worst producer in modern music. He produced Fall Out Boy’s comeback album which in turn popularized that blown out sound, he produced with numerous other rock artists trying to break into the pop charts, he and Imagine Dragons are why many other rock producers started trying to copy that sound, he produced five of the tracks here - if your favorite rock band from when you were growing up starts making generic music trying too hard to land on the charts or in a commercial (including last year’s awful “Father of All…”), chances are you can blame Butch Walker.
The best songs on this record are simply overblown, the worst are incomprehensible baffling noise. On the more boring end you have tracks like “Last of the Real Ones” and “Hold Me Tight Or Don’t”, which consist of generic EDM and reggaeton production/rhythms that just so happen to include guitars, and it’s not even done well. Even songs that you would assume have some sort of subtlety like “Heaven’s Gate” can’t help but boom stomp clap Imagine Dragons style. But then you have truly unlistenable songs like “Church” where it sounds like they just kept trying to make it bigger and bigger with more over the top layers and then forgot to mix and level it afterwards. And then there’s “Young and Menace” which no words I could write can fully capture how unlikeable this song is. If I’m trying my best though, it’s three non-verses broken up by a drop that sounds like it was either made by a twelve year old making his first beat or someone intentionally trying to make fun of EDM, with Patrick Stump’s melodramatic vocals pitch shifted to screeching highs and comic lows, blown out programmed drums firing off at all cylinders, overly distorted guitars and annoying sfx shooting out, and barely any low end.
Speaking of low end, what the fuck was Pete Wentz doing during the making of this album? Not only does he seem completely uninterested in his instrument (if there’s any live bass here you can barely hear it), but he also seems completely uninterested in writing as well. Pete’s writing was never out of this world or anything, but at least it seemed like he put in effort to write out of this world lyrics. Now it just sounds like typical cliches broken up by random references for no rhyme or reason. “I, Tonya” was being released around this time, let’s reference Tony Harding. Everyone knows Britney Spears, let’s include a reference to “Oops, I Did It Again”. Pete tries to explain how they references point to a bigger, grander theme after the fact, but you wouldn’t know any of that without his own explanation, it doesn’t play into anything meaningful at all. And then you got real lyrical stinkers like “Are you smelling that shit? Are you smelling that shit? Eau de résistance”, uninspired lyrics like “If I can live through this, if I can live through this, if I can live through this, I can do anything” (are you even trying), or lyrics like “If you were church, I’d get on my knees”, which not only was that not the first song using a metaphor comparing a lover to a church in the past five years at the time, but that’s the most expected, unclever way you could use that metaphor. It really seems like Pete Wentz has absolutely nothing left to write about, and it shows.
It’s been almost four years since this album was released and there’s yet to be a sign of a new album coming soon, so we still haven’t seen how “Mania” will affect the band’s career from this point forward, but I think this is the end of Fall Out Boy’s ability to cross over into mainstream pop charts. Maybe one song whenever they come back, but if they keep making music like this that’ll definitely be it. Fall Out Boy made a gaudy, tacky, tasteless album that represented everything wrong with mainstream rock of the 2010’s, trying to be laughably over the top and incorporate the most gentrified versions of current trends, with only Imagine Dragons and Green Day surpassing them in terms of worst examples of this problem. In short, “Mania” was a clusterfuck and, as a rock band with pop crossover, a potential career killer.