Pete Wentz is talking about drenching Elton John in blood.
The scene: the video shoot for “Save Rock and Roll,” the title track of Fall Out Boy’s most recent record and first in five years, where they rescued themselves more than the music in question.
In the clip, the band fires lightning bolts from their instruments at black-clad bad guys and gals culminating in a scene with John, who guests on the song, getting splattered in crimson.
There was but one stipulation before filming the sequence.
“Right before the shot, the first A.D. (assistant director) was like, ‘Don’t get any blood on his face. That’s the one thing,’ And then,” Wentz chuckles as he recalls the sequence, where John does in fact get half his features drenched in the stuff. “It was like, ‘Well, I think this is the end of the video.’ I remember when it happened everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be so explosive.’ And then (John) just laughed about it all, took a shower and left.”
The moment encapsulates both the song and the album in question: This is Fall Out Boy at their most irreverent, comfortable and self-assured.
Since breaking big with their 2005 sophomore disc “From Under the Cork Tree,” which sold nearly 3 million copies in the U.S., the band has scaled commercial peaks and plummeted down personal valleys, becoming stars and tabloid casualties at once, trying to find themselves in song and occasionally overreaching.
They became the poster boys for emo, a designation they didn’t much like, and who could blame them: Fairly or not, the music comes saddled with connotations of emotional fragility, skinny jeans and mounds of tear-softened Kleenex.
Addiction, inner-band tension, the dreaded hiatus: All the traditional symptoms of a band charred by the heat of the spotlight’s glare manifested themselves in this bunch, who seemed to be on their last legs in fall 2009 when they played their last show together before going their separate ways.
Eventually, a Fall Out Boy comeback was to be expected, but it wasn’t expected to sound like this.
With guests ranging from the aforementioned John, Courtney Love, British singer-songwriter Foxes and rapper Big Sean, “Save Rock and Roll” is a diffuse, impulsive record where electro pop, punk and R&B are rendered indivisible from one another.
“Since we went away and came back, music moves so quickly now, you’re able to do tons of different things as long as they’re things that are authentic to you,” Wentz says. “We were coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas. If anything, I think that we’re far more open now to doing something that’s probably outside of what people would consider our genre or who we are.”
This kind of anything-goes approach that Wentz speaks of isn’t wholly new to Fall Out Boy. Their previous album, 2008’s “Folie a Deux,” was also an attempt to reshape the band’s sound, incorporating soul, classic rock and even jazz flourishes into the Fall Out Boy aesthetic.
The record ended up feeling a little forced and overstuffed in places, though.
It was the sound of a band trying too hard, in places.
You could hear them think.
“I think when we made ‘Folie a Deux,’ maybe we reached a little beyond what people expected or were comfortable with at the time, so some of it maybe fell short,” Wentz concedes. “But at the same time, I think that that paved the way for us to be able to do ‘Save Rock and Roll’ and move beyond what people would have normally expected.”
To underscore Wentz’s point, “Save Rock and Roll” feels like a less self-conscious exploration of the outer limits of Fall Out Boy’s sound, from the symphonic, near-disco sashay of album-opener “The Phoenix” to the hip-hop influenced stadium rock of first single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” to snarling “off-key anthem” “Rat A Tat.”
They’ve managed to find a way to survive emo and themselves alike.
“I think it’s kind of a strange place for us to be in as a band, because I’m not exactly sure who our contemporaries are,” Wentz says. “I think we came from a very specific scene of music and now that doesn’t seem to exist, or, as everything evolves, it’s a different thing now. We’re trying to figure out what our place in it is, or what our place in rock and pop music is.”
“Save Rock and Roll” doesn’t really answer the question of where Fall Out Boy fits in contemporary pop and rock, though.
Maybe they don’t really fit in with either.
Maybe it’s better that way.
“You have to play music that your audience is going to enjoy, but at the same time, you have to push people into new areas that maybe wouldn’t have known of felt supercomfortable with,” Wentz says. “I think that’s something we’ve always played around with as a band.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.