“I have a bone to pick: that is the definition of ‘hiatus,’” Patrick Stump, singer-guitarist of Fall Out Boy, told a packed house at Chicago’s Subterranean on Monday night. He explained it means a temporary break, not a permanent separation. “I told you we were gonna come back. Why didn’t you believe me?”
The performance capped weeks of rumors of a Fall Out Boy reunion and denials from the band, but in one fell swoop on Monday, Fall Out Boy announced its return, a tour, and a new album. In the three years since it parted ways to pursue different projects, the party line remained the cliché employed by bands everywhere in similar situations: indefinite hiatus. Even as Stump devoted his time to his solo releases, he was careful to note that his old band wasn’t even his old band: Fall Out Boy remained an entity, just one that happened to be inactive at the moment.
The problem is that the world demands binaries: on/off. Together/broken up. It wants periods, not semi-colons. When bands try to force some middle ground, they end up in skeptical quotation marks: Fugazi is on “indefinite hiatus.” Even as the phrase has grown more commonplace—a quick Google search links it to Disturbed, Perpetual Groove, and Allstar Weekend in January 2013 alone—people still equate it with a breakup. Perhaps correctly: More than a decade has passed since Fugazi last performed, so that indefinite hiatus has become a de facto breakup.
Ask singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye about it, though, and he won’t accommodate the need for closure. The band may return; it depends on the members’ schedules, their families, and their desire to revisit something that dominated their lives for nearly two decades. Any announcement that Fugazi has officially disbanded would be for everyone else’s benefit, not theirs: It permits people to eulogize the group formally, because you can’t praise a dead person if there’s a chance he might get out of the casket at the funeral.
Fall Out Boy didn’t quite do that—its return was more akin to awakening from a vegetative state. Why come back now? Well, “now” actually stretches back the better part of a year, when bassist Pete Wentz and Stump first started discussing writing new material. Along the way, an album came together and a tour was booked. It’s not like Fall Out Boy played a secret show in Chicago because all four members happened to be in town and it sounded fun. They were well rehearsed and ready to “save rock and roll,” as the (likely ironic) title of their upcoming album says.
Again, why now? The cynical answer would be that none of their other projects amounted to much: Wentz’s No Doubt-esque Black Cards never released an album, lost its singer, then became a DJ duo; Stump’s overly ambitious solo album was tepidly received; and drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman’s The Damned Things, featuring members of Anthrax and Every Time I Die, hadn’t done much, either.
Last weekend, SiriusXM’s 1st Wave channel ran a long interview with Peter Hook, the former bassist of Joy Division and New Order who recently released a middling memoir. His estranged bandmates have reunited New Order without him, which Hook dismissed as a cynical cash-grab. (That’s rich coming from the guy who tours with hired guns to play Joy Division hits.) Hook noted that, had Bad Lieutenant—the band New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Phil Cunningham started with Blur’s Alex James—amounted to anything, New Order would have remained mothballed, as it has been since mid-2009. It should’ve stayed there, according to my colleague Jason Heller. As he wrote last week, a well-timed breakup can be as important as the spark that brought people together in the first place. Bands need to know when their time has passed—unlike The Mars Volta, Jason noted, who broke up after releasing a few subpar albums that rubbed some of the shine off their superior early records.
Fall Out Boy’s last album pre-hiatus, Folie À Deux, was easily its most accomplished, fully of nicely nuanced pop-rock that had grown more epic in its sweep. But the differences among its members had also grown more pronounced: Wentz had become a tabloid fixture; Stump seemed more inclined to perform the R&B that suited his voice; and Trohman and Hurley seemed more interested in heavier music. Add in the general annoyance that comes from spending the better part of a decade with the same people, and there was only one choice to make.
A few years later, the members of Fall Out Boy wouldn’t compare themselves to Sumner et al, despite the low profile shared by their solo projects. “We don’t need to be here,” Stump told the crowd Monday night. “You don’t need to be here.” Everyone, he said, had something else they could be doing. The only thing that led to “this fragile, little, tiny idea,” as Wentz called it, was a love of music. “We wanted to make music that fucking matters,” he added later, nicely teeing up a hundred snarky retorts from his army of detractors (and making Save Rock And Roll sound less ironic).
As much as we love closure, we seem to love a good comeback story even more. Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Mission Of Burma—the more ostensibly final the exit, the more dramatic the return. Fall Out Boy tried to quash that out of the gate: “This isn’t a reunion because we never broke up,” read its statement. It’s a refrain the binary-minded world should get used to hearing; more bands are going to exist in that vegetative state, either because they don’t want to end it altogether or they simply aren’t sure what’s going to happen. As much as we want to pull the plug to lend some finality to everything, it’s not our decision. The patient could wake up at any time.