Patrick Stump was listening to Fall Out Boy's almost-complete seventh album, Mania, in July when he realized there was a major problem: It wasn't very good. "It freaked me out," the singer says. "I was like, 'I don't think this is something the four of us will like, I don't think it's something the label is going to like. It doesn't sound like Fall Out Boy. Oh, God, I can't turn this in.'" Stump told bassist Pete Wentz, who felt the same way; they decided to push the album back to January, even though they'd already committed to an American arena tour in the fall to support it.
The episode was the first major snafu Fall Out Boy had seen since 2013. Back then, after a four-year breakup, they returned to score huge pop-radio hits like "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark" and "Centuries." But the group's Mania singles from earlier this year, the EDM-flavored "Young and Menace" and "Champion," which had an old-school FOB vibe, failed to even crack the Hot 100. "The songs were trying to serve everybody, but they weren't going to be compelling to anybody," Wentz says of the scrapped album's tunes. "It felt like all bread and no meat. There was no spicy mustard or anything."
If the pressure of redoing much of the album while preparing for an arena tour has caused the band any stress or turmoil, it certainly isn't apparent backstage at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. Killing time after soundcheck, the band holds a series of supremely dorky conversations; Wentz defends the much-maligned Terminator: Salvation, starring Christian Bale, and hypothesizes that Adam Driver's character might ultimately turn out to be a good guy in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Stranger Things 2 is also a big topic. "There are moments on Stranger Things where Sean Astin really looks like [his Lord of the Rings character] Samwise Gamgee," says guitarist Joe Trohman. "Hey!" says drummer Andy Hurley. "No spoilers!"
In August, the band returned to the studio with producer Illangelo – best known for his work with Lady Gaga, Drake and the Weeknd – and decided to start largely from scratch. An intensive songwriting boot camp at Stump's Burbank, California, studio worked, yielding songs like the trap-infused "Hold Me Tight or Don't" and the synth-y "Expensive Mistakes." It helped that the deadline to deliver the album had been extended. "It was Thanksgiving, when the old guy unbuttons his belt and just exhales," Stump says. "We were relaxed, and the rest of the record kind of wrote itself in a week."
Those songs are a hit at the sold-out show that night in Fairfax, where the crowd sings along to every word of old hits like "Dance, Dance," "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" and "Sugar, We're Goin Down." The tour coincides with a renewed interest in the emo scene of the Nineties and early 2000s, with bands like Brand New and Say Anything playing to big crowds again. Though those groups were their early peers, Fall Out Boy see themselves as a separate entity.
"None of the emo bands messed with us," says Stump. "They hated us. They wouldn't tour with us." Adds Trohman, "I'm going to sound like a jerk, but we are still doing the band and making records – we are not on a 10-year-anniversary tour. We are still an active band. That is not an easy thing to do." For that reason, the band let the 10-year anniversary of 2007's Infinity on High pass by this year without any sort of special tour or box set. "A band like us could get stuck if we did that," says Wentz. "It's a loop, and we'd be doing it forever."
Another example of Fall Out Boy's privileged position: Before a proper American tour for Mania in 2018, the band will hit the Jingle Ball circuit in December, playing on the same bills as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, the Chainsmokers, Niall Horan and Camila Cabello. In every case, Fall Out Boy are the oldest act on the bill – and the only rock band. "When we play those things it literally feels like we're Slayer or something," says Wentz. "Then we play the modern rock shows and we're the pop band. It's a little bizarre."
Stump acknowledges that even after all the work they put in, he won't mind if the reworked Mania doesn't connect with radio: "Do I need another hit in my life? I don't really care. The only reason to put out a record is if it's really great. And once you are past the radio-hit stage of your career, that becomes even more important."