In 2009, Fall Out Boy were worn out from the seemingly endless cycle of record, release, tour; record, release, tour. After a show at Madison Square Garden that year, during which Mark Hoppus of blink-182 shaved bassist Pete Wentz’s head in a gesture loaded with symbolism, the band went on hiatus. When the band returned to the studio in 2012 to begin recording, one thing was clear: The group felt boxed in by the “emo” tag, a genre that had exploded in the wake of their success. They needed to make a genre-defying, entirely unpredictable album. The result, released the following year, was Save Rock and Roll.
The album’s cover of a “punk” and a “monk” facing the camera, was meant to indicate reinvention – what happens when the past and present morph into some previously secret future. According to the band, it was “the idea of old and new clashing. Tradition and change coming together.” What did that mean, musically? The old on Save Rock and Roll was sticky-sweet hooks that linger long after the songs finish. The new: Just about everything else.
The first single was a sign of things to come: “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” featured rapper 2 Chainz. Some fans were shocked by the collaboration. As Wentz recalled to MTV: “The night I went out with 2 Chainz to talk about this, we took a picture together. He posted it on the Internet like, ‘Fall Out Boy featuring 2 Chainz.’ Kids were like, ‘That’s not real.’” It was. And the song became the biggest hit from the album. Fittingly, the idea for the song began long before – originally written around From Under the Cork Tree, in fact – but it was the group’s fresh ears that led to its completion.
It’s hard to imagine the band that made “Sugar We’re Going Down” working with rappers, let alone inviting collaborators onto their project at all – a concept that was relatively foreign in mainstream rock in 2013. But the list of collaborators on Save Rock and Roll is long: Big Sean mingles alongside Courtney Love, Elton John, and indie pop singer Foxes. That collaboration with Foxes, “Just One Yesterday,” led Wentz to reflect that it was “a song that Fall Out Boy could not have written ten years ago,” he said. “We couldn’t have even written that before the hiatus. I think that was good, it was a departure. It was Fall Out Men.” Save Rock and Roll was the sound of a band that wanted rewrite its history. While the album may not have rescued the genre, it certainly rescued the band itself.