But even despite the abundance of buzz and bluster, the bad breakups and worse puns, Save Rock and Roll is more or less excellent. Stump’s tuxedo-wearing time in the solo trenches seems to have bolstered his ear for melody — “Alone Together” and “Miss Missing You” are skillful, skyscraping dance pop — and his eye for casting: “Rat a Tat Tat” finally hands Courtney Love the role she was born to play, that of Mark. E. Smith. (As for “The Mighty Fall,” a tepid collaboration with rapper Big Sean, well, there’s a case to be made for it on a conference call with investors but that doesn’t mean I have to listen in.) The production, by chart-whisperer Butch Walker, polishes everything until it’s in your face and gleaming: the apocalyptic strings of “The Phoenix,” the louche bottom-feeding of “Where Did the Party Go,” the Adele-aping intro of “Just One Yesterday.”
Wentz’s wordplay occasionally needs a timeout — “my heart is like a stallion / they love it more when it’s broken” is one clunker — but over the course of the album’s 11 tracks his unironic wistfulness strikes a chord. A decade ago, his Peter Pan–in-a-hoodie act seemed emotionally stunted but culturally attuned to the world at large. It was a time of big, dumb politics and big, scary events; naming albums after children’s books and writing children’s books named after Smiths songs seemed like a reasonable response for a generation that had plenty of reasons to avoid growing up. Now 33 years old, divorced, and the father of a young son, Wentz seems nostalgic for immaturity, not shackled by it. The album ends with the title track, a heavy-handed, heavy-hearted piano ballad featuring Elton John. Like this album, it’s the sort of thing that should tip over like a lead balloon, but instead it soars. “I need more dreams and less life,” Stump-as-Wentz sings, before claiming to be “the last kid kicking that still believes.” It’s a relatable sentiment for anyone who spent their youth without realizing it could never be paid back.