One of the front runners of the early 2000s Emo/Pop-Punk boom, California Quartet Fall Out Boy have always had a certain disregard for their reputation, often maligned for their penchant for sugary sweet choruses and melodramatic self-hating emo lyrics. FOB know their loyal and vocal fan base and have had no qualms with catering directly to them and no one else, slowly progressing over the course of their five full length releases to the theatrical, arena-conquering sound of Save Rock & Roll, an album that embraced the band’s cheesy side in an attempt to recall the classic Rock & Roll records of old.
Needless to say the record was not exactly to my tastes, but it was not without it’s enjoyable moments, the titular soaring ballad featuring a guest appearance from none other than Elton John kicks off with chopped and screwed vocal samples of FOB’s first record before launching into a defiant boom-boom-clap chorus and some actually pretty inspirational lyrics (“You are what you love, not who loves you”), while you can’t truly appreciate the fist-pumping anthem The Phoenix until you’ve witnessed it destroying a festival crowd of several thousand.
With this unapologetic surge towards mainstream rock legend status, it seems odd then that at this juncture FOB would make such a pointed move to win back fans who dismiss the band as overproduced garbage with the stripped down, hardcore influenced EP PAX AM Days.
While this out of left field release is an admirable concept, it has mixed results. The 8 track EP is a brief affair, with all but one of the tracks coming in at under 2 minutes. Fall Out Boy are attempting to capture that hardcore sound albeit with their own melodic stamp with varying degrees of success. The guitar work is fast and aggressive with similarly abrasive drumming, recalling the instrumentation of NOFX and Gorilla Biscuits. After the layered, lavish production of Save Rock & Roll, this almost entirely live-recorded sound is an almost jarring change of pace. The instrumentation here is more Black Flag than Jimmy Eat World with power chords and brief, improvised sounding solos abound.
Both drummer Andy Hartup and lead guitarist Joe Trohman have previously played in hardcore bands and this experience shows in the 8 track’s driving rhythms and grooves. This project was tipped as a collaboration between the band and producer Ryan Adams (Weezer, Counting Crows) and his influence does shine through, although when it comes to production, the recordings are so bare bones one has to wonder what Adams actually did besides setting up the instruments and hitting ‘record’.
Most out of place here are Patrick Stump’s vocals. Stump has killer vocal range, which is probably a major contributing factor to FOB rising above the sea of similar bands, however here his theatrical vocal style often jars with the rough-around-the-edges instrumentation. The “Yeah I said the king is dead!” refrain of opener We Were Doomed From The Start is one moment where Stump’s vocals work, laying a bouncy hook over the dirty guitars, but on the very next track Art of Keeping Up Appearances his R&B influenced delivery seems entirely too clean to do the track justice, neutering a track that could have been a punk gut punch. On Eternal Summer Stump seems to channel Ire Works era Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) with a half sung, half yelled defiance and slightly nonsensical lyrics. Stump’s inconsistent delivery is my biggest sticking point with this release and is ultimately what stops PAX AM Days from sitting comfortably next to contemporaries like Rotting Out; in the end the record feels less like a hardcore band and more like Fall Out Boy trying to sound like a hardcore band.
While it is impossible to separate Fall Out Boy’s previous works from this release it is an enjoyable yet inconsistent listen. It is at the least interesting to hear one of the world’s most prominent Pop-Punk groups attempt to capture a hardcore sound and a fitting tribute to said band’s punk roots. While it doesn’t always work PAX AM Days is an admirable attempt to win over disillusioned fans and who knows, maybe this will get people who say “I remember when Pete used to scream” to quit whining.
Best tracks: We Were Doomed From The Start (The King Is Dead), Love Sex Death
For Fans of: Descendants, Gorilla Biscuits