As a band, Fall Out Boy were never short on ambition. Their songs were big, their music videos were bigger, they dated celebrities (well, one of them did anyway) and they talked about themselves a lot. For Infinity on High, their first album after becoming a world-famous rock band, they called the opening track “Thriller” and invited Jay-Z to appear on it, for no apparent reason other than to surround themselves with success in the hopes of achieving a similar level themselves. This was not a band conflicted about their massive popularity, this was a band that wanted—and for a while, expected—to be the biggest band in the world.
And for a while, it seemed like they were going to be. Infinity on High debuted at #1 on the charts, while lead single “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” debuted at #2 on the Hot 100, a type of debut usually only achieved by the pop elite—but that’s the level Fall Out Boy wanted to be playing on. Somewhere along the line, though, the band lost the plot. Blame the overexposure of group leader Pete Wentz, blame pop-punk falling out of favor in the rock scene, blame the group’s music and videos becoming a little too insular, but Infinity failed to yield another smash, follow-up Folie a Deux was a relative flop, and the group decided to go on hiatus, Wentz working on side projects while lead singer Patrick Stump embarked upon an acclaimed (though commercially unsuccessful) solo career.
Yesterday, though, the news came out: Fall Out Boy were back. As appears to increasingly be the trend among big-name artists, their return essentially came out of nowhere, with virtually no rumors or hype leading up to their posting of new single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” on their website, along with the announcement that their new album (their first since 2008′s Folie) would be out in May, accompanied by their first tour in nearly as long. The name of the album is typically Fall Out Boy in its unapologetic reach: Save Rock n Roll.
Can they do it, though? Well, based on the album’s first single and video, they’re smart enough not to try to do so with their old pop-punk sound, which would sound extremely dated at this point and put them well behind the eight ball towards re-capturing their old rock throne. Rather, “My Songs” adapts a kind of fun.-like hybrid feel, with a big anthemic rock sound (pounding drums, chant-along “woah-oh”s) and big pop production. Actually, even more than fun., “My Songs” reminds of the kind of slick arena-ready hugeness of Def Leppard’s Hysteria, which crossed over well enough to sell about 12 million copies once upon a time. It’s not a bad model to follow in 2013.
Though the band insists on their website that “My Songs” and Save Rock isn’t a reunion “because we never broke up,” it seems like the band is aiming for a completely fresh start. Tellingly, the band does not even appear in their music video, minus perhaps a final scene where four dudes are shown tied up in the back of a van. Otherwise, it’s rapper 2 Chainz—who doesn’t actually appear on the song, but just wait for the remix—setting fire to all the band’s stuff, including musical equipment, records and even touring t-shirts, a pretty clear symbol that the band is severing ties to their past, like George Michael blowing up all his old shit in the “Freedom ’90″ video.
The early returns are promising. The song already appears to be something of a hit, darting to #2 on the iTunes chart—sorry Wentz, “Thrift Shop” shall not be moved—proving that an audience still exists for Fall Out Boy, and that the new sound (which you could say the group was already heading towards before their near-half-decade hiatus) hasn’t completely alienated old fans. We’re rooting for them to succeed—rock may or may not need “saving,” but it was definitely more interesting with Fall Out Boy a more interesting factor, and perhaps the group has learned their lessons this time and won’t let their pursuit of celebrity overwhelm their incredible talent for songcraft and performance.
Nothing wrong with a little ambition, though, and we’re glad FOB still have their sights set as high as ever.