LOS ANGELES — "Hell yes, this record is political. But it's not ever going to be overt. You have to look beyond that," Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump said from the studio where he and his bandmates are putting the finishing touches on their Folie à Deux album. "I think this is a very political record, but that gets misunderstood really easily. I think people don't really care what 'politics' even means anymore. If there's a simple theme that I would want to express through the music, it's that you really need to think about things."
Stump is speaking, of course, about the recent reports of the (supposed) political slant on the FOB album that's due November 4 — Election Day. While his sentiments are probably only going to further confuse fans — and provide ammo to critics — we've got to admit that he's pretty dead-on in his assessment. At least, judging from the tracks we heard.
On Thursday night, MTV News visited Fall Out Boy — who, coincidentally, are nominated for Best Rock Video at the 2008 Video Music Awards — at an L.A. studio to get a sneak peek at a handful of songs from Folie, all of which bore tentative titles ("America's Sweethearts," "Never Believe," "Does Your Husband Know?") and a healthy dose of political edge. But not of the red state/ blue state variety, mind you.
Rather, the new songs delve deep into the politics of the heart and mind, exploring decaying relationships, moral dilemmas and societal shortcomings. The lyrics — written once again by bassist Pete Wentz, who works through a series of thoroughly detestable characters on the new album — deal heavily with concepts like truth and trust, arrogance and infidelity, responsibility and commitment. It's a world where there's not all that much difference between a marriage vow and a campaign speech, in that both are rooted in a promise, one that is easily — and often — corrupted.
"One of the things I wanted to do on this record is — and it was very conscious ... I don't think enough people give Pete Wentz any credit. I think he's awesome, I think he's a very talented guy," Stump said. "People only take pictures of him on his way to somewhere. So you just see him with his cup of coffee walking into the studio, but you don't see him in the studio. He's in here working a lot. He totally outdid himself on this record. He doesn't even know how good his lyrics are here. ... So I really had to do something to suit that. So I've been using musical style as a palette to support his lyrics."
The best example of this synergy is probably "Husband," which struts in on a massive drum line and crunching, processed guitars, gets amplified by a four-piece horn section, then falls away to a simple, somber piano line. It's sexual one minute, heartbreaking the next — the perfect accompaniment for Wentz's tale of infidelity and deception.
"Swagger is a great way to describe it, because on the song, he's lyrically adopting a character that has swagger, so I wanted the music to have that swagger. The verse is so confident and funky and forward because the lyric is so full of itself," Stump explained. "And then everything stops, and there's a piano breakdown, and it's very melancholy and sad and theatrical, and the lyric shifts to the doubt that's behind all that arrogance. And ultimately, I wanted the music — in conjunction with the lyric — to express that arrogance is usually a mask for terrible insecurity.
"What I took out of [the lyrics] was that there was something so compelling about the character in the song. ... Like in 'Silence of the Lambs,' when Hannibal Lecter is talking about how he doesn't kill, he covets. ... The song is about that — the prowl of chasing a woman," he continued. "I think it meant, like, this guy is cheating on his girlfriend, but he knows she's not cheating on him. There's this total 'looking into the mirror and trying to convince yourself of absolute lies' kind of thing. People ask all the time, 'Oh, Pete got married, how does that affect the record?' and I think, if anything, he just wanted to point out how lightly people are taking their marriages. No one seems to be worried about what's going on, they just want to have things."
And that focus on the failings of society continues on "Never Believe," which is powered by drummer Andy Hurley's work — this time a taut marching cadence — and lush, open guitarwork from Joe Trohman. Stump's voice is loud and clear as he urges the listener to "throw your cameras in the air/ Wave 'em like you just don't care."
" 'Never Believe' contains my favorite Fall Out Boy lyric, maybe ever. Because everything we're trying to say about pop culture, it's in this song," Stump said. "The chorus — 'Change will come, but I will never believe in anything again' — that's about the '90s, when we really cared, [but] then we got into all this awful mess. And I think people stopped believing in the goodwill of man and that you can change the world or do any good. So everything became internalized. The past decade has been totally about 'me.' It's totally about 'Oh, I'm sad. I want this. I know somebody who knows this person. Me me me me me,' so that's what that song is about."
And while he was at it, Stump decided to dissect the first single from Folie, the strutting "I Don't Care," which the band debuted earlier this week on their official site. Seems that it, too, is another attack on the vapidness of the era we currently inhabit, one obsessed with celebrity and the self. It's an attack you can shout along to, of course. It is a Fall Out Boy song, after all.
"Like the chorus says, 'I don't care what you think as long as it's about me.' It's that pop culture thing again, where people don't care about anything but the superficial, and I think there's something so tragic about that," he laughed. "I also thought there was something so ironically anthemic about the chorus, where it's not something you want to sing along to, because it's vacuous and empty. So I wanted something really anthemic underneath it, like something you'd hear at sports games or whatever, because I wanted people to hear it and be confronted with how empty that is. I didn't want anything to be superficial on this record unless the point was to point out superficiality."