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Review: Making the most of Fall Out Boy’s mediocre ‘MANIA’ (Grade B-minus)

Fall Out Boy’s highly anticipated “MANIA,” released Friday, is pure pop. And that’s OK.

When you really think about it, Fall Out Boy hasn’t truly been a pop-punk band since 2005. And that’s OK.

The band is probably never going to return to the rawer sound heard on 2005’s “From Under The Cork Tree” and 2003’s “Take This To Your Grave.” And that’s OK.

After dipping its toes in the pop-music water, more and more, album after album, the four-piece band took a giant, bold-faced plunge straight into the deep end with “MANIA.”

The album opens with “Young and Menace,” which was released way back on April 27. (The band had scheduled “MANIA” for a Sept. 15 release, but said it wasn’t ready and pushed it to Jan. 19.)

I’ll admit at first listen, as a longtime fan who has grown up with FOB, I was a bit shell-shocked by the first single. The EDM (electric dance music) elements were thick. The distorted vocals in the chorus. It just sounded so different.

But it’s a great song. It’s intense and bold, and a perfect vehicle for the distinct vocals that Patrick Stump has provided for more than 15 years.

No one sounds like Stump.

The problem though, with “Young and Menace” and much of the album, is that the rest sounds a lot like other stuff on the radio.

“Champion,” the album’s second track and single, is another good one, but replace Stump’s voice with someone else’s and it really could be any band playing a song that sounds perfect for pumping up a crowd before a professional sports game.

Stump’s voice has probably been one of the biggest reasons for the band’s success. Pete Wentz (bass), Joe Trohman (guitar) and Andy Hurley (drums) are very capable musicians, but have never gone out of their way to stand out on the albums. The band’s always been better because of the sum of its parts, because of its willingness to venture into different genres and collaborate with different musicians from all over the musical landscape.

What the band has gotten away from though, is being a leader in that musical landscape. Instead of taking its music to different places and making that sound popular, it has more recently ran its music to the popular places and tried to ride the wave.

Another single, “Hold Me Tight or Don’t,” has a Latin vibe, and has been compared to a Shakira song. Good, but nothing new. Another single, “The Last of The Real Ones,” while catchy is ... also good, but nothing new.

Perhaps I’m holding Fall Out Boy to a standard it doesn’t quite deserve, but we’re talking about a band with five straight top 10 albums on the Billboard music charts. Fall Out Boy is one of the godfathers of pop-punk and hugely influential to many bands that followed it.

Putting the general disappointment aside, and a few tired, cringe-worthy lyrics, and you’ll find some really good and catchy stuff on “MANIA.”

The second-to-last track, “Sunshine Riptide,” is destined for pop radio, because it’s a great song with an incredibly catchy chorus. “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” is good and catchy-as-heck, too.

The two before it, “Church” and “Heaven’s Gate,” were not particularly impressive and seem out of place, giving the already unbalanced album even more of a choppy feel.

However, the album closes with “Bishops Knife Trick,” another pretty solid song and one that sounds a little more old-school Fall Out Boy than some of the others.

So where does the band go from here?

Let’s hope, wherever it is, it’s decided by the band and not by what’s on pop radio.

Being on pop radio’s not the problem. Fall Out Boy is a pop band now. But sounding too much like everything else that’s on pop radio – that’s the problem.

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