Today marks the release of Patrick Stump‘s debut solo album Soul Punk, and I’m going to put my cards on the table: It’s my favorite album of 2011, and has been since I first heard it. (You can stream it here.) Hooky and witty and jam-packed with instantly hummable tunes, it is a fantastic pop record, one that I probably would have worn out by now had it been issued to me in a format less durable than the infinitely spinnable MP3. Stump plays all the instruments on the album (save Lupe Fiasco’s cameo on a Chicago-centric remix of the civic-pride endorsement “This City”) and he gets off a lot of casually virtuosic bits; the guitar solo on the ebulliently bittersweet “Everybody Wants Somebody” is particularly delightful. And then there’s his voice, which helps him channel both swaggering snake-oil salesman types (on “Greed”) and people whose hearts have been punctured by the vagaries of love (“The ‘I’ In Lie”).
The critical bias is, of course, that I was a fan of Stump’s band Fall Out Boy, a fact that some of the more taste-policey people who read this site had a bit of trouble wrapping their head around last week. There’s definitely a through line between that band’s last record, 2008’s Folie A Deux, and what’s happening here, although the dominant reference points skew more toward the soul side. “Cryptozoology,” which is a hidden track on the album (isn’t it great that the digital age hasn’t killed that bit of fun?), is a direct heir of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s approach to pop-funk, with zigzagging guitars and a breakdown that you can almost see Morris Day jerking out to.
And I feel like if I don’t mention the chronicle of adolescent awkwardness “Allie,” the soaringly posi closer “Coast (It’s Gonna Get Better), or the jittery, pessimistic bit of spaz-funk “Dance Miserable,” I’ll be giving them short shrift. People often talk about how debuts are “accomplished,” but the way this album operates both as a whole and on a song-by-song level is pretty astonishing, especially in a time of diminished attention spans and “an MP3 star is born” evanescence. More importantly, Soul Punk reveals what a great pop album—one that sidesteps the Eurohouse trap befalling too many artists these days and just gets down—can sound like. And boy, is it thrilling.