Thursday, October 17, 2013

album review: 'PAX AM days' by fall out boy

Earlier this year, the legendarily maligned pop punk band Fall Out Boy came back from a five year break to release their newest album Save Rock And Roll, an album that I have rather complicated feelings about. Basically it's an album that works better in pieces that it does as a whole (with a couple of songs that I actually do really like, namely 'The Phoenix' and 'Young Volcanoes'), and the overloaded arrogance and venom towards their neglected fanbase kind of got my nerves more than once. What I did gloss over in my earlier review, however, was that there was something of a sonic shift on the album towards a more electronic-rock sound in the cacophony of the mix. It didn't really bother me - Fall Out Boy always stuck close to a sound that was popular in the pop scene - but it did bother the fans, who were violently split on this album (despite critics mostly being positive to it).

Apparently, though, bassist and primary songwriter Pete Wentz heard it and decided to release a surprise album this year (one that flew so far under the radar I only heard about it fairly recently, and I keep an ear to the ground when it comes to this sort of thing). Recruiting producer Ryan Adams and recording the EP over two days, Pete Wentz stressed that this was something the band for fun, allowing them 'to get some demons out', inspired by Black Flag and hardcore punk from the late 80s and early 90s. 

And here's where I have to confess some of my own ignorance here: I don't know a lot of hardcore punk. I don't mind it - I listen to Black Flag and Fugazi, but I honestly don't have as wide of a frame of reference to the genre. I'm more of a post-punk and anarcho-punk sort of guy, personally, and I'm not the biggest fan of how some of the 'hardcore genres' have evolved over the past few years. That being said, Fall Out Boy returning to a genre they were last close to about ten years ago and being primarily a pop punk band... well, it'd probably be more accessible than jumping straight into hardcore, so why not? How does Fall Out Boy's PAX AM Days turn out?

Eh, it's all right. It's not a hardcore punk record that's going to blow your mind, but PAX AM Days is perfectly suitable for what it is and what it's trying to be: a bunch of guys goofing off over two days in a studio smashing out something dirty, rough, and deliberately unpolished. It's also less than fourteen minutes long, so I will endeavor to keep this review shorter that the EP it was on.

Instrumentation and production are pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Fall Out Boy punk record - fast-paced, kind of grimy but nothing too dirty, and catchier than it really should be. Fall Out Boy has always had a gift for hooks and it comes through here, particularly on tracks like 'Hot To The Touch, Cold On The Inside' - it's an area where their pop sensibility serves them well. In particular I'd like to highlight the bass work and the drumming for being pretty damn solid, and there are points where the rhythm guitar gets a pretty solid groove. However, there are points where the slapdash production doesn't favour the band, particularly when the feedback bleeds into the mix and isn't cut, which, sure, it contributes to the messy punk feel of it, but when the band actually has a good groove, it's not good when the feedback drowns it out. And - kind of unsurprisingly - there are points on these records where I can tell some of these songs could have been shortened a bit - perhaps even cutting this EP down to twelve minutes! And Patrick Stump's vocals are passable enough - he doesn't do any real screaming which can be common in the hardcore scene, but he brings a fair amount of energy and doesn't embarrass himself.

So what about the lyrics? Well, what about them - they're barely here and even less relevant. There are points where the song titles are long enough to comprise a significant portion of the lyrics within these songs, and really, they don't amount to much at all. They're traditional punk topics (partying, protesting the man, being legit), and Fall Out Boy really don't do anything special with them - although, once again, they don't embarrass themselves. Really, that's kind of disappointing - Fall Out Boy has a reputation for being a pretty lyrically dexterous band with good songwriting chops, and here, you only see fragments of it. 

And this leads back to a question: who the hell is this record for? Most hardcore punks have never listened to Fall Out Boy and would never be interested in a punk record from the band, and most of their fanbase probably would consider this material too unpolished and lacking in, well, everything besides some competent grooves. I guess if you want to hear Fall Out Boy return to their roots, but here's the thing: there are points on this record where it doesn't quite feel DIY enough to match their early tapes - it's a little too clean, a little too pop at points to be a really legit hardcore record. There's a reason most punks go towards pop and not the other way around, and PAX AM Days is a good example of why. The most I can really say about it is that it's fun, and that's why it'll get a 6/10 from me, and 'Hot To The Touch, Cold On The Inside' is a pretty solid song, but outside of that? 

Eh, I guess with this album, Fall Out Boy proved they could make a vaguely passable 'hardcore punk' record, and if you have a driving urge to hear that, it's worth a listen. Otherwise... well, it exists and doesn't really offend. Make of that what you will.

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