Patrick Stump--ingenious frontman, enigmatic/resourceful lyricist and talented vocalist? A lot of scrutiny can be placed on what his work purveys and there's a strong need to assess if he's the sure-shot solo act to top and crack recent well-received works such as Truant Wave and his last FOB outing, Folie a Deux, with the latter being nicely written but poorly effected musically (personally to me, that is). Thus, with that level of cynicism, comes a grand level of responsibility to fans old, new and soon-to-be.
Stump opens the album brilliantly as he shows he's got the power to shirk and irk naysayers and doomsayers with the esteemed dodging, bobbing, ducking and weaving music-wise as he sets out to cleverly machinate a full solo act. John Legend, Elliot Smith, Geoff Rickly, Ian Curtis and Robert Smith all lead with a delectable aura…and Stump follows suit with an eye-catching opener, and outright tribute to the influence of Michael Jackson in "Explode." "If I'm never your hero / I can never let you down" shows he has not lost his affinity for immaculate wordplay, and supporters would know he has a politely profane penchant for knocking quotes out the park. His profuse knack for this is best exemplified on "Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet," but he still wrings these lines out well on the new release.
We segue into the electronica and poppy beat that clubs will no doubt adhere to in "This City". It's somewhat stoic and the catchy lyrics/funky beat reek of a Billboard Hit. It's simple but an illustrious message. Stump will have R&B fans throwing their hands up in the clubs no doubt. It's cheeky a grin and a middle-finger to his doubters but you can't fight a good pop song when you hear it, headbanger or not! It isn't typical Stump, he isn't poetic here and it isn't my fave but I wouldn't mind holding a female down in the club to it.
That blindfold aside, the influence of Montell Jordan, Boyz II Men, Bell Biv Devoe and Bobby Brown are felt in waves on the album, especially "Dance Miserable." This isn't a rock album. This album is a symphony of anthems representative of Stump's evolution in pop/music culture and indicative of his revolutionary stance that punk rock breeds diversity and breaks down walls. Transgression or not, Stump does things his way. Everyone samples, mixes and collaborates and he just wants to branch off from the punk scene he grew in. He never says he won't stick to his roots and it isn't a floundering foreclosure to his fans.
"Spotlight (New Regrets)" gives a Depeche Mode/Alphaville kind of effect but it's a potent and poignant song. It definitely seems tailor-made to be a hit. The other tracks fight to rival it and it's unparalleled when it reeks out without struggle or painful effort "Every word's a new regret if you say it right / Every wound can be forgotten in the right light / Oh nostalgia, I don't need you anymore / Cause the silent days are over and the beat is at my door." It's like a rebirth and the chance to come out of his proverbial cocoon where he may have felt a bit stifled as an all-purpose punk act. It may be his way out of musical syncope.
"The 'I' in Lie" seems more akin to a Jason Derulo anthem when Stump exclaims 'I'm a cheat, cheat, cheat / Baby bang bang, kiss kiss / You and I gotta put an end to this / So we cheat, cheat, cheat / If you're unfaithful put your hands in the air / Like your under arrest with a guilty conscious." He delivers an anthem for society--young and old--where infidelity and adultery run rampan. Cheating is an act I despise. I've come to accept with some irregularity in modern society but please, forgive me if I hypocritically bob my head to this song. It's sly, sneering, insidious and engulfs the lot in our everyday lives, like it or not. It isn't the first song on this topic and definitely won't be the last.
"Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)" echoes a Motown ebb and flow as Stump shares to his punk fans the humane fact that he doesn't want to give his fans their space, he simply wants them to partake in his! He pours it all here, bares heart and soul, and wants his fans to participate. He opens this can of worms with no moderation as he's on the tarmac, fueled (not by Ramen), ready and inviting everyone to go along on his ride. It's up to your flavor and acceptance if this style of Stump is to your liking. The album's arrangement, thus far, is impressive as expected, akin to a MJ album. Again, the influence is not lost on avid and enlightened ears. Stump is arraigned of feeding off his idols and truth be told, he more than does them justice in his homages/tributes.
There is a lack of coherence and cohesive flow with "Coast (It's Gonna Get Better)," but despite the audible attrition in the flow that was being conveyed up until this point, it's a miss that is forgiven due to it's virtuous message. This doesn't take away from the fact that it bears strong semblance to another club-tuned song --fashioned on the strength on Stump's impeccable vocal talent. It's prose on funk/R&B/soul and if it's one man who can make this work, it's Stump.
Topping it off, just when it seemed the album wouldn't end with a tentative right hook, the "My City" remix burns incandescent gold under the rhymes of Lupe Fiasco. Stump engineered a golden ticket right here. He plays on strengths of musical arrangements that influenced him here on Soul Punk and some fans may draw ire, but not me in this humble shell of diversity. Just embrace it with one thing in mind: It's way more soul, with minor pockets of punk.