Review: “Soul Punk”

Oct. 21, 2011, 12:41 a.m.
Review: "Soul Punk"
Courtesy of Island Records

As a die-hard Fall Out Boy fan, I was thrilled that Patrick Stump was coming out with a solo album. But his new release, “Soul Punk,” sadly falls a little flat. Perhaps it’s my own fault for setting such high expectations for Stump (I guess I expected his new work to be as streamlined as his new look), but this debut comes across as more disastrous than dazzling. The problem is inherent in the album’s title–Stump attempts to mesh together two very different musical styles, soul and punk, but fails to do so coherently, resulting instead in sheer cacophony.

To his credit, Stump orchestrated nearly everything for “Soul Punk”–he wrote, played and produced pretty much every track on the album–but his great talent is obscured by garish musical clutter at every turn. The album opens with the high-energy, aptly named track “Explode,” whose radically different style serves as a clear indication that this album is decidedly Stump’s, and not a showcase for Fall Out Boy 2.0. From this very first track, however, it is clear that something is off. The song is overproduced, with Stump’s attempts at creating a groovy vibe turning the song into an overwhelmingly synth-driven, exceedingly syncopated burst of noise. It is indeed an explosion, but not in a good way.

“This City” comes much closer to hitting the mark, chock full of catchy beats and sporting a sing-a-long chorus, though the Lupe Fiasco remix that closes the album seems unnecessary. The “punk” is barely evident in this feel-good piece and in the album as a whole, mostly surfacing in the sharp irony of the some of the lyrics.

The next track, “Dance Miserable,” is another example of the album’s incoherence; the jarring percussion clashing horribly with Stump’s soulful wailing. “Spotlight” is a shimmery tune with an infectious beat that could have been Stump’s redeeming song, had it not all come crashing down again with the next song, “The ‘I’ in Lie.”

Whatever this is, it doesn’t feel right,” Stump sings in this Fall Out Boy-esque titled track, “It might have felt good for a minute, but admit it to yourself, it ain’t right.” Though he was singing about the immorality of an illicit affair, these lyrics may well have been about the album itself. This “soul punk” genre Stump is trying to champion has so much potential, but isn’t executed well here at all. The heavy synth-beats and dance rhythms crowd out Stump’s soulful runs and forays into falsetto in nearly every track. The best part of the entire album is Stump’s utterly unique voice, but it is drowned out by busy backdrops and distracting disco effects. Stump’s voice is so muffled that it’s almost as if someone turned down the treble knob on the stereo and upped everything else.

This trend continues throughout the rest of the album, with the songs getting progressively more filled with junk. For instance, “Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)” starts off promisingly with an a cappella, echoey intro in the style of Fall Out Boy. Eight long minutes later, though, the song itself seems to have “run dry,” breaking down into little more than white noise for the last painful minute of the piece. The subsequent “Greed” is a downright mess, with “Everybody Wants Somebody” not faring much better. “Allie” may be the album’s best song, with a much more subdued backing track that allows Stump’s vocals to shine through, if only for a brief moment of respite.

We can only hope that Stump meant what he said in the title of the album’s penultimate track, “Coast (It’s Gonna Get Better).” There is no disputing Stump’s immense musical talent–he just needs to refine his sound and let his voice do the talking rather than trying to jazz his songs up with unnecessary clutter. Never fear, Patrick–if you decide to ditch the soul, there’s always Fall Out Boy!

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