Has it already been half a decade since Fall Out Boy was a thing? Despite initial reservations about digging something that was clearly not targeted to my age demo, I found myself liking these guys quite a bit during their glory period, and that had a lot to do with lead singer Patrick Stump. Although bassist Pete Wentz was the public face (and other body parts) of the band, and wrote much of the band’s material, something told me there was a beast in Stump waiting for the right time to break out.

I couldn’t have been more right. Soul Punk, Stump’s debut solo album, is so good it even surprised me. And despite a pretty radical switch in genre, I can totally see a definite line connecting this album to the work that FoB did during their glory days.

The back of the CD booklet spells it out as clear as day: all instruments performed, every word sung, every string plucked and every key struck by Patrick Vaughn Stump. A stat line like that conjures up Prince-ly images to me, and Soul Punk occasionally sounds like a Michael Jackson album produced by Prince and then put in a contemporary time machine. The staccato spitting out of Stump’s vocals is VERY King of Pop, certainly more so than pretenders to the throne like Chris Brown, who I don’t think is capable of writing and producing material this good in his sleep.
Folks who have been awaiting this album will certainly recognize “Spotlight” as a song that Stump premiered on his website something like a year ago and also featured (twice) on his Truant Wave EP from earlier this year. In it’s third iteration, it retains it’s hooky flavor and remains a standout track. “The ‘I’ in Lie” boasts a Fall out Boy-esque title and one hell of an anthemic chorus. It’s a synthed-up version of “I Don’t Care” or “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s An Arms Race”.

“Dance Miserable” out-Pharrells anything the real Pharrell has done in at least a decade, and recalls Skateboard P’s best work on Justin Timberlake’s “Justified”, while “X Heart X Fingers” and “Greed” split the difference between early 80’s dance/funk a la D Train and modern day pop with some Minneapolis (by way of Chicago) flavoring.
The lyrics mostly explore the dark side of relationships in typical Stump fashion, but he takes a quick detour to shout chi-town out on “This City”, which also features local-guy-made-good Lupe Fiasco. It’s no “Empire State of Mind”, but then again, the world-beating Jay-Z/Alicia Keys duet doesn’t have the odd “We built This City” vibe that Stump’s song has. Besides, the version with Fiasco (which appears as a bonus track on the album) is easily the best thing that Lupe has appeared on this year.

I’m pretty sure there’s a good chunk of folks who were fans of artists like Chris Brown, Usher and Justin Timberlake in addition to Fall Out Boy. With Soul Punk, Patrick Stump lays the catalogs of all three artists almost completely to waste. He’s certainly a better songwriter and musician than any of the three, and only Usher can challenge him as a vocalist. Will his ex-Fall Out Boy status (and genre switch) keep him from being anointed the new prince of pop/soul? Perhaps, but at least Patrick can console himself with the fact that Soul Punk is one impressive debut album.

Grade: A-

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