For Fall Out Boy, time is a funny thing. A little over 20 years since the genre-defining (and often defying) Chicago band’s inception, they returned on March 24 with their eighth studio album, So Much (For) Stardust. The release is the group’s first record in five years, following up 2018’s electropop-heavy Mania, which saw their biggest departure in sound yet. So Much (For) Stardust returns to the Fall Out Boy pop-punk playbook of decades past, but they’ll be the first to tell you: This is not “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” Instead, Fall Out Boy have taken two decades worth of history and crafted them into one of their most electrifying catalog entries to date.
Over Zoom with MTV News, bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz and frontman Patrick Stump discuss the desire to stand firm against claims of a throwback album from the jump. “It was a preface more than anything,” Wentz explains. “It’s like in the ‘Thriller’ music video where they’re like, ‘The occult isn’t good!’” There are plenty of reasons you might assume Fall Out Boy may be reverting to a former version of themselves. The band recently returned to their very first label, Fueled By Ramen, and with the return of producer Neal Avron — who helped craft their breakout From Under the Cork Tree and followups Infinity on High and Folie à Deux — fans were quick to assume that the band had decided to embrace of their pop-punk roots. But returning to a specific sound wasn’t nearly as important as capturing the spirit of albums past. And if there’s one album to compare the spirit of So Much (For) Stardust to, it’s 2008’s divisive and experimental Folie à Deux, which featured collaborations with Lil Wayne and Debbie Harry.
When Stump is asked what about the band’s fourth record, Wentz breaks out into a sly grin. “Yes Patrick, what was it?” As Stump leaps to his own defense (“I have things to say about that!”), Wentz continues the lighthearted attack. “I can just picture your Folie à Deux record in your closet calling out to you like a lightsaber,” he says with a laugh. Stump concedes to the jest and continues. “I have very mixed feelings about that record. I feel like we, collectively with Neal, were at the height of our musical capacity together, the five of us. But interpersonally we were at the bottom. Pete and I were about as far as we’ve ever been. I always had this unrequited desire to see what we could have done with those five people now.”
On So Much (For) Stardust, Fall Out Boy feel more together than they have in years. You can feel the passion bleeding out of not just Wentz and Stump, but their bandmates: drummer Andy Hurley and lead guitarist Joe Trohman. The two leads are eager to praise the other half of their quartet and detail their roles in bringing the album to life. “Andy is a funny guy,” Wentz observes. “He’s a quiet guy usually, unless it’s just us or people he’s friends with. But he really speaks on the drums on this record.” “He got good,” Stump exclaims. “He started good, but he got good, didn’t he? It’s crazy!” Trohman, who announced in January he was stepping back from the band for a period in order to focus on his mental health, is likewise excellent on So Much (For) Stardust. Wentz describes the aftermath of his work as adding “an espresso shot” to the songs. Stump says often Trohman placed the missing puzzle piece in a recording. “There’s a section on ‘Heaven, Iowa’ where I had the chords and vocals, and Joe brought in this guitar part that absolutely makes that section. That song wouldn’t exist in the way we think about it now without Joe. That’s what I think makes for really great songs, the conversation that bounces around.”
Conversations are key to a Fall Out Boy record. Stump reframes the idea of legacy as being an ongoing topic of discussion between the artist and the listener. Since the band returned from their hiatus (which lasted from 2009 to 2013), the discussion about what Fall Out Boy “is” has constantly evolved. The group’s comeback record, 2013’s Save Rock and Roll, left early boosters wondering if the band had gone too mainstream. For others, it was the first time a Fall Out Boy record drew them in. The same can be said for Mania; the album earned the band their second Grammy nomination, while some fans were put off by the sharp change in musical direction. “It’s that feeling of arguing with a loved one and that’s the last time you talk to them. You just have that uncomfortable feeling,” Stump says. “I feel that musically. If I ever feel unhappy with whatever the last thing Fall Out Boy had to say was, it drives me to make something.”
There’s a lot said on So Much (For) Stardust, but of course, there always is on a Fall Out Boy album, let alone in the song titles on their most beloved projects. Wentz’s songwriting is as robust as ever, and the lyrical depths he reaches only prove why artists (including Taylor Swift) have looked to him as inspiration for the last 20 years. There’s a persistent battle being fought throughout So Much (For) Stardust — nihilistic self-preservation versus the part of you that maintains your childlike sense of hope and wonder. “I contemplate mortality a lot in my daily life,” Wentz explains. “I think about how I’m not going to exist one day, how the people I love won’t exist. It’s just a little overwhelming to me, sometimes overwhelming in a way that feels paralyzing. But then I think that life is so short, you have to do things because of that. The record is both halves of those feelings.”
“The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)” features one of the standout lyrics on the record: “Passed my old street / The house I grew up in / It breaks your heart / But four of the Ramones are dead.” The idea that you can never go back home, or back to childhood, framed in the context of your dead heroes teems with sorrow in a way that few can put into words the way Wentz does. “You fall asleep in the car and your parents carry you in and put you to bed,” he says. “And there’s this feeling of adventure, a safety net, and you just can’t go back to that. It’s temporary and it makes me feel really lonely. You’re like an astronaut floating through the world by yourself, which I guess is what makes connecting with people mean so much to me.”
Two decades after they began, the magic of Fall Out Boy is clear. It isn’t just that they can pinpoint the areas in music where something is missing (though that certainly helps). It isn’t the sheer number of albums they’ve released or the speed at which they release them. Fall Out Boy remain indelible for their inability to be anything other than exactly who they are. While everyone else is trying to figure out what made them great in the past, they’re already creating a vision of the future. “I want every record to be like our last,” Stump asserts. “I want every one to be like I’m on my deathbed. This is the last thing I’m going to say musically, the last opportunity I’m going to have — what’s that going to sound like?”