A couple years back (I want to say either late-2007 or early-2008), I read an interview with Patrick Stump in which he more or less admitted that he was well aware of Fall Out Boy’s status as a pop band. He even went as far as to admit that the band could have easily gone back into the studio to record another album, but that they weren’t done riding on the commercial success of their then-current album, 2007’s Infinity on High. I’m paraphrasing what Stump said in that interview, of course, but the reason I bring it up at all is because it was at that moment that I understood that at least one member of Fall Out Boy recognized that his band was nothing more than a pop band, and that he embraced that fact. And to be honest, I kind of respected that. It didn’t make me enjoy the music, but I respected his awareness of where his band stood in regards to the music industry.
Which brings us to 2013. Fall Out Boy ended their hiatus and released their fifth studio album, Save Rock and Roll, which was notable for its distinct lack of rock and roll, and instead seeing the band expand on their pop sounds, embracing electronic elements as well as a general arena-sized grandness in song structure. Given Stump’s previous statements regarding the band’s music (and not to mention the direction of the music itself on the band’s previous albums), this wasn’t really all too much of a surprise. What was a surprise was the announcement that the band had recorded an EP of “punk and hardcore” inspired songs with musical busybody, Ryan Adams (The Cardinals, ex-Whiskeytown, etc) helming the production.
PAX•AM Days is supposed to be reminiscent of the classic 80’s hardcore that the band members and Ryan Adams grew up listening to, and the exact opposite of the large-scale pop sound of Save Rock and Roll. Longtime followers of Fall Out Boy know that some of the band’s members are no strangers to punk and hardcore, particularly bassist Pete Wentz and drummer Andy Hurley, and even the ever-prolific Adams has gone skinny-dipping in the punk genre from time to time with his bands The Finger and The Shit (with names like those, maybe the skinny-dipping imagery was a bad choice). So, in theory, there was a slight chance that this EP would not be terrible. As it turns out, not all theories work in the way you think they will.
The problem with PAX•AM Days isn’t that the songs aren’t fast enough (because they are for the most part), or that they don’t have the right instrumentation (the band scaled back the pianos and other additional instruments), or even Stump’s delivery (he’s most definitely a pop singer, but all the best hardcore singers had distinct styles- from H.R.’s squeals, to Biafra’s nasally snarl, to Mackaye’s anthemic barking). No, the problem with PAX•AM Days is simply that it’s lacking the spirit that 80’s hardcore had. What draws people to albums like Damaged or the Minor Threat EP isn’t contentment, but contemptment*. There’s no real reason for any of the members of Fall Out Boy to be angry about anything- they’re one of the most successful bands on the planet right now, and that success just does not translate well into anger. The songs feel empty, as if the band is just going through the motions. Maybe fans of Fall Out Boy’s usual pop style won’t be able to distinguish it from the real deal, but honestly, as fans of the genre I’m surprised that both Adams and Fall Out Boy thought that these songs could pass as genuine hardcore.
The closest that PAX•AM Days comes to emulating the feel of hardcore comes from the mid-EP track “Love, Sex, Death”. There’s still that hollowed out feeling in the song, but it avoids veering too much into the pop territory like other tracks (especially “Hot to the Touch, Cold on the Inside” and “Caffeine Cold”). If you were to sneak “Love, Sex, Death” into a playlist at a party with a bunch of punks you might be able to get away with it… as long everyone is on their eleventh beer by the time it comes on.
Despite having the general sound and song structure of classic punk and hardcore, PAX•AM Days is a failed experiment to anyone that actually listens to classic punk and hardcore. What could have been a legitimately interesting experiment in sound for this group of pop stars comes off as nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt to remind the world that Fall Out Boy ended their hiatus. The only positive thing about PAX•AM Days is that you can give it to your younger cousins as a Christmas gift alongside copies of Bad Brains or Group Sex to show them the wrong way to do hardcore and the right way to do hardcore.
*That’s gross overgeneralization, I know. I just wanted to use that contentment/contemptment line. Please just go with it.
1 / 5 Stars
RIYL: Just go listen to Black Flag, Minor Threat, or Bad Brains instead.