Pop Punk Is Not Dead

Light that smoke, yeah, one for giving up on me / And one just cause they’ll kill you sooner than my expectations / to my favorite liar / to my favorite scar.

The first bit of songwriting that rings out over Fall Out Boy’s 2003 album, Take This To Your Grave, is more ominous that most people realize.

I was working as the treasurer of Marist College Radio (WMAR) in 2005 when we learned that, prior to their show at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, Fall Out Boy wanted to come and do a signing at our school. The station manager at the time, a gruff hardcore kid, accepted the request with little-to-no fanfare. A week later, I was setting up a table in one of our lecture rooms and shaking hands with Pete Wentz. Back then, before their sophomore album, From Under the Cork Tree, landed them on top-40 radio and touring arenas, I remember how timid they seemed, how gracious they were to be greeting the 40-or-so kids who came out for the signing. They all autographed a poster for the station, nervously fielded some questions, and shuffled out. No managers, no assistants, just four guys who looked like me, but shorter.

We know how the story goes next. “Sugar, We’re Going Down” becomes a major hit, Cork Tree sells and sells, and in our minds, makes Fall Out Boy rich and famous. Two years later, shouldering expectations from both diehard fans of the early, fast, powerful first album, Take This To Your Grave and new, eager fans of the more melodic Cork Tree, FOB released their third full-length, Infinity on High. The album started with something funny: a Jay-Z intro. How mainstream were these guys? Pretty darn mainstream. Yet, with roots in hardcore and pop-punk of yore, how could fans reconcile the R&B grooves of new songs like “The (After) Life of the Party” and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” ..? The band, as all famous bands go, began to grow polarizing.

Then it happened: The fourth album that was rocked by critics and fans alike. Folie a Deux contained elements of soul, power-pop and pop-punk. Yet, with such a fervent online following, and fans who treated their early work as gospel, the heat came harshly and often. Countless blog posts wondered “What Happened to Fall Out Boy?”

At Madison Square Garden, before Blink-182 took the stage, Fall Out Boy backhandedly announced a “breakupiatus” This is a mix between a breakup and a hiatus…usually reserved for bands so uncertain of their future, they prefer to keep every option open. Pete Wentz shaved his emo swoop off and announced that the scene was dead. The same four guys who looked at their shoes while a bunch of college sophomores asked for autographs had grown so stratospherically gigantic that the only solution to appease everyone was to stop all together.

We etched a headstone: “Here lies Fall Out Boy, the band who gave us Take This To Your Grave, From Under the Cork Tree, and some other stuff.”

Years later, Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump would resurface. Something happened. He was thin. People gain weight, lose weight; it happens all the time. When “famous, rich” people do it, it becomes newsworthy. The blogosphere lit up with skinny Patrick images. The microscope lens just needed a little wiping, but it was now clear as day. So we had the voice of Fall Out Boy back, with a new look (no more hats and t-shirts, now an adult haircut and tailored suits). We didn’t have any new music yet. So we waited. The single from Stump came in the form of “This City” — a power-pop dance-off featuring rapper Lupe Fiasco. The beat was large, Patrick’s voice was hitting gigantic falsettos, and the lyrics were …well…not about much of anything (as top-40 lyrics often go). The single was followed by more of the same. Soul Punk, the first solo record post-Fall Out Boy, would be released to horrific results.

Critically, the album wasn’t reviewed terribly (mostly 3-to-4 out of 5 star reviews). Stump’s R&B influences were on full display, as were his dance-pop sensibilities. Flashes of what people seemed to hate about Fall Out Boy were collected into an entire album, then released. When FOB fans got hold of it, the resentment boiled over. Fans purchased tickets to Stump’s solo shows just to stand front and center to tell him off. At meet and greets, fans told Stump that he was “better off fat” and should just “off himself” …anger turned to hate and hate was projected onto the wrong man.

The problem with pop-punk is ownership. Who owns the songs? The artists who record them? (Take This To Your Grave was written by Fall Out Boy when they were merely 18 years old) The fans who find so much meaning in the lyrics? Pop-punk fans are amongst the most dedicated, the most connected to the internet and blogosphere, the most ardent and difficult to please. When an artist changes, the backlash can be devastating.

We believe these artists to have dream lives, infinite money, the ability to create at will …so when they misstep, or do something different, we nail them up on a cross made of old ALTPRESS covers and ticket stubs. Patrick Stump and Fall Out Boy wrote songs that were beloved by so many kids, and like those kids, the band grew up. We long for Take This To Your Grave 2: Back in the Dirt …fact is, it’s not coming and it will never happen. Perhaps the joy we need to find is that it should never happen.

A record is like a moment, it exists in context and has meaning, then will be remembered in nostalgic fashion, but never re-lived. Have you ever tried to replicate a moment? You can’t. It hurts to try. How does this story end? Not well. On 2/28/12, on Patrick Stump’s blog, he wrote an entry called “We Liked You Better Fat: Confession of a Pariah” detailing the trials of making Soul Punk, his financial status, and going into detail about the death threats and how it affected him to the point that he stopped touring behind the record. He has disappeared.

“The reality is that for a certain number of people, all I’ve ever done, all I ever will do, and all I’ve ever had the capacity to do worth a damn was a record I began recording when I was 18 years old.” – Patrick Stump, “We Liked You Better Fat.” TC Mark


image – Fall Out Boy / Amazon.com

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