Hey folks, we’re doing a double today!
Between these two albums, news of My Chemical Romance’s hiatus, and whatever the hell Panic! At the Disco is coming up with, 2013’s shaping up to be a weird banner year for a scene that’s last gasp was Paramore’s 2009 album brand new eyes. Paramore and Save Rock and Roll feel connected not just because of their genres, but because I don’t think anyone planned on hearing more from them. In Fall Out Boy’s case, it was simple enough: the band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2009 with nebulous plans to come back someday. It’s a little more complicated with Paramore, who lost two essential members (lead guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro), but has continued on as a trio.
The brothers’ departure was a blessing in disguise. Paramore’s always frustrated me because they could be better than they actually were; each of their albums had about three to five flat out great tracks loaded down with power pop filler. From All We Know Is Falling to brand new eyes, they mostly kept the same “big guitars and big drums” sound that could be great or stale.
With the Farro brothers gone, Paramore was free to become a studio band that could follow any particular idea they wanted, and Paramore is far and away their best record for doing just that. They haven’t abandoned their old identity–the band that made “Ignorance” and “Misery Business” was capable of new songs like lead single “Now”, with its droning guitar and erratic drums, and the strong hooks are as present as ever, but Paramore finally explores the full abilities of its members. “Daydreaming” tiptoes lush dream pop territory with its shimmering guitars, whereas “Part II” is an alt. rock workout, and the band becomes straight up New Wave on poppy single “Still Into You”.
Of course, Hayley Williams’ vocals are still the band’s greatest strength, and she leads Paramore through its best moments–the triumph of “Last Hope”, the utter wail on the bridge of “Still Into You”, “Aint It Fun”‘s soul-pop and gospel choir ending, and the Metric-esque stomp of opener “Fast In My Car”, to name a few. The lyrics to Paramore touch on the Farro’s departure throughout; there are plenty of references to hard days, moving on, and the “Anklebiters”, as it were, but no song handles the subject like “Fast In My Car”, which comes out as a mission statement (“The three of us were initiates, we had to learn how to deal”, “We’re driving fast in my car/We’ve got our riot gear on, but we just want to have fun”).
The only fault on Paramore is that it could easily be cut down from its 17 songs (3 of which are ukulele+vocals interludes) at 1 hour runtime. “Be Alone”, “Proof”, and “Future” all feel clunky or redundant, but it’s an otherwise excellent rebound genre-buster of an album that shows a band succeeding at changing their sound.
Fall Out Boy arrive at Save Rock and Roll with the opposite problem: here’s a band that’s changed their sound so that they barely sound like themselves anymore. While Paramore were rushing out of the Warped Tour ghetto with “Misery Business”, Fall Out Boy were starting the “Soulful and metacommentary-heavy lead single, Jay-Z opening our record, and songs led by strings” phase of their career. Folie a Deux continued the experimental path, and now Save Rock and Roll puts more distance between FOB and their pop-punk rise than ever before. That’s not a good thing.
Save Rock and Roll carries all of the worst marks of a reunion album. The top-dollar production is too smooth and slick for its own good, it’s knowingly self-important, and outside of two, maybe three flashes of inspiration, it feels minor. It was made in the knowledge that it’d be backed by an arena tour that would sell out in days, one where new songs like “Young Volcanoes” and “The Mighty Fall” exist as piss breaks for fans between “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs”.
The album starts with a fantastic one-two punch. “The Phoenix”, possibly the most obvious name for the first song on a reunion album, roars to life with strings, crunching guitars, and more than a hint of desperation. Patrick Stump’s opening command of “Put on your war paint!” has some actual bite to it, and his vocals cement the song’s status as a keeper. Next tune, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light’Em Up)” has been a year-long hit off of the arena-ready beat, sheer swagger, and killer hook of “I’m on FI-YAAH!”
But while Paramore started with the “We’re back” acknowledgement and lead single and continued the quality, Save Rock and Roll becomes pretty tepid pretty quickly. The bulk of the album blends rock, hip-hop, R&B, and pop together, but it never coalesces into anything but passingly catchy songs that aren’t tangible enough to revisit. If I wanted to hear Fall Out Boy with post-punk synths, “Miss Missing You” isn’t going to suddenly come to mind, nor will “Death Valley” crop up if I want to hear FOB with a vaguely dubstep bridge. The closing title track with Elton John makes for a nice “Sounds like something you’d hear Elton John on” ballad, and maybe “Alone Together” or “Just One Yesterday” will scratch a modern pop rock itch for someone, but it’s not enough to redeem this much muck. The only album-long redeeming quality is Patrick Stump’s vocals; he’s always been good, but he walks away from SRaR as the winner by a long shot. Fall Out Boy’s never been called “boring” before, but I can’t describe something as inorganic and generic as SRaR as anything but.
So, while Save Rock and Roll and Paramore both exist somewhat in the same space–an emo group led by a big-voiced lead singer reforms/reunites to put out a poppier and different sounding product–the intentions behind them are a contrast. Paramore pushes boundaries and doubles down on the band’s reach, whereas Save Rock and Roll picks up where the group left off without daring them to be anything more. Fall Out Boy know that they’re a brand, Paramore realize there’s more to them than they thought.
tl;dr: Paramore – Paramore: 4.5/5
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll: 2/5