Pop Song Review: Fall Out Boy, “Centuries”

Well, we’re back to this, it seems. Pop music will never die, but you and I will. So today’s review, and the first single review of 2015, is “Centuries”, the new single from Fall Out Boy. As a primer, though, I recommend you go read “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I think it might provide a useful context to this song.

First impressions: This song feels like getting shot in the face with an Airzooka. Sure, you feel it for a little bit, but it’s still just air. Nothing’s been broken, you’re fine and the endeavour is more startling than enjoyable, so what was the point?

The music: If this blog were more widely read, I’m sure I’d get a heap of flack for calling this a ‘pop’ song. ‘But it’s got guitars!’ the hypothetical masses cry. ‘It’s got loud drums! It’s got… a bunch of guys, I guess. Rock bands have those, right?’ Look, I’m sure this is as close to rock music as many mainstream listeners are willing to get (and for those of you in that group, here’s hoping you never stumble across any Pantera lest you brown your shorts in horror), but… you know what, I’m getting off point.

So this is a song designed to inspire confidence in the listener – and it tries really, really hard as well: first you’ve got that “duh-duh-duh-duh” chorus line (which sounds suspiciously similar to the chorus melody of Arctic Monkey’s “Knee Socks“), then you have this giant, thumping beat and those sky-high melodies working in tandem to make you get up and bally well have a run around the park, as Bertie Wooster once put it; then you have another chorus line singing “hey-ey-ee-ey-oh” or however it goes, then you have Patrick Stump sounding as if he’s trying to pinch one out as the verse stomps on, with surprisingly sparse instrumentation and some added Queen-esque harmonic spikes thrown in for good measure, before it all swells together for the massive chorus.

Unfortunately the whole effort is brought right back down to earth with that horrible, overly-sincere piano, the plodding tempo and Stump’s painfully processed, quivering yelp of a voice singing what amounts to a strangely downbeat melody, as if the idea of being remembered for centuries annoys him somehow. In fact the song itself is all minor chords, if I’m not mistaken, in what I assume is an attempt to sound “dramatic”. It’s funny, actually, because I’m working on a piece for this blog at the moment on why good drama needs humour to give the audience a sense of relief from the truly dramatic moments in any form of entertainment (it’s a creeper post, though, so don’t hold your breath), one of my points being that if you don’t provide the humour in your work, the audience will find it themselves, and another being that “seriousness” does not necessarily equate to “drama”; so this is quite timely actually.

As you might have guessed “Centuries” is probably the most pretentious thing Fall Out Boy have ever put out, and this is a band who, only three years ago, claimed they were going to “save” rock and roll. Well, it would have been nice if they’d actually written some rock and roll for a change, because the guitars are pushed so far into the background here and so heavily compressed I have trouble deciding if that actually is a guitar or whether a bee flew into the room during the recording session and they just left it in.

They’ve clearly cribbed more than a few ideas from Imagine Dragons who, themselves, are about as rock and roll as a DFS sale, but these sorts of “call my name”, testosterone-fuelled, chest-beating anthems are only fun if they’re… well, fun. But the music on “Centuries” is weirdly morose which, if the song were about the funeral of a Roman emperor or something, might make more sense. In fact that’s not a bad interpretation to pull from all this, but the band haven’t given me quite enough reason to buy into that explanation and, frankly, I’m not doing the legwork for them. This is plastic, posturing pop rock on steroids. It’s what Maroon 5 would sound like if they tried to write an “epic” song. In fact, surely this is just “Animals” with a “We Will Rock You”-style “anthem” beat? The melody, the chord progression, the instrumentation – doesn’t it all strike you as a bit familiar?

The lyrics: The chorus pretty much sums up the gist of the song: “Some legends are told, some turn to dust or to gold / But you will remember me, remember me for centuries.” And that’s about it: you’re gonna remember them. Well, good show everybody. Lights out, let’s get those tables folded up and… wait, you want me to go on? Huh, okay.

“The kids are all wrong, the story’s all off / Heavy metal broke my heart.” Well, they’re clearly riffing off The Who’s “The Kids Are All Right” with the first half of that first line, but “heavy metal broke my heart”? Some people really can’t let St. Anger go, can they? No, you see, what this lyric is about is… er, the youth are going to… uh, we’ve all been misled and… um, something about being remembered? Eh, I don’t know.

“Come on, come on and let me in / The bruises on your thighs like my fingerprints.” First of all, “in” and “fingerprints” don’t rhyme. There’s assonance there, but they don’t rhyme. Secondly, if a person’s thigh-bruises resemble fingerprints, that means they were probably caused by somebody’s fingers, which sounds to me like enough of a reason to get social services on the blower. Coupled with the line “come on and let me in,” I’m getting a very bad vibe from this lyric.

“I can’t stop ’til the whole world knows my name / ‘Cos I was only born inside my dreams.” You were only born inside your dreams? So you’re admitting that all this braggadocio is just a big fantasy of yours? Let’s be clear, “Centuries” suffers from the exact same problem “Uptown Funk” did lyrically: we’re never given a solid, convincing reason to buy into the bravado. However, “Uptown Funk” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously, unlike “Centuries” which has these towering melodic hooks, these inflated chords and this big, punchy production all built on a very po-faced mission statement.

But it all rings hollow: the imagery is vague, the message is cheesy and hackneyed, and there’s no punchline to all this build-up. I’ll remember you for centuries, will I? Why? How? What have you done, exactly, that is worth remembering? Again, if it wasn’t so serious I could take it as a cheeky statement of intent from an arrogant young band of rascals, but Fall Out Boy are in their mid-thirties trying to build what amounts to a ten-bedroom mansion on a bed of sand. I suppose you could make the same argument about Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, which seems to be the reference point for all these hollow “I’m the greatest” songs, but at least that song had the trump card of being “We Are the Champions.”

“Until you die for me, as long as there is a light, my shadow’s over you / ‘Cos I am the opposite of amnesia.”  Oh, I know the year’s young, but I’m calling that out as one of the downright worst lyrics of 2015. “The opposite of amnesia”? What in the good Lord’s name is that supposed to be? So you remember everything? Or rather, you’re the living embodiment of being able to remember everything? Is that why we’re supposed to remember you – your impressive memory skills? You know, with such over-the-top music and such stupid lines like this married together, this is turning out to be a pretty funny song. I don’t think the band intended it to be so, of course, which naturally only makes it funnier.

“We’ve been here forever and here’s the frozen proof / I could scream forever, we are the poisoned youth.” Oh, what in sweet mercy are you talking about? “Frozen proof”? See, now you’re being too specific, because all I can think about is a bunch of ill, angry teenagers stuck in a big block of ice. Here’s a little equation for any budding lyricists out there: dumb imagery + melodramatic music = copious laughter from the listening audience. You have been warned.

Verdict: Yeah, this is pretty bad. It’s not awful – there are some decent hooks buried in there – but it’s just completely over the top, which would be fine if it was any fun. But it isn’t: it’s deadly serious that you should remember it for hundreds of years. If it gave me any worthwhile reason to keep it in mind for that long I’d budge a little, but I can barely remember it five minutes after listening to it. 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Who Are You?” by The Who.

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