"It comes as a surprise to people that I enjoy R&B, jazz, hip-hop a lot," Stump told me last spring as his solo tour came through town. "I can converse more about those than I can about modern rock. If you really listen to Fall Out Boy, we were never really total rock dudes. ... I'm calling the album 'Soul Punk' partly because there's this assumption that I'll put out an R&B record or a pop-punk record, and I'm really neither. I'm in between. I'm my own eccentric little me."
Stump's transformative full-length debut, "Soul Punk" (Island)  out this week, lets all his eccentric little self hang out -- all the '80s R&B synthesizers, all the Ray Parker jams, all the New Jack hip-hop and (get ready) rapping, and a heapin' helpin' of Michael Jackson influence (no surprise, given his popular MJ medley on YouTube). He produced the whole thing, wrote the whole thing and plays nearly every sound on it. In recent concerts, he's diverted from his own material not to play FOB songs but to stitch together medleys of artists such as Bobby Womack, Bell Biv Devoe and Billy Paul.
It's been interesting to watch Stump literally come out of his shell. His chameleon appearance -- from frumpy four-eyed muttonchops under all those woolen caps to today's close crop, fingerless gloves and svelte, "Outland"-ish tuxedos (debuted this summer at Lollapalooza), an aesthetic somewhere between Sheila E and Corey Haim -- mirrors his musical evolution. After FOB's pseudo-split, Stump began toying with sounds, crafting more suitable music around his naturally soulful voice, even releasing different versions of songs and polling fans as to which they preferred. The direction, however, was always pointed toward "Soul Punk's" pure pop, the kind of dance-based, white-guy-overbite jams that made Justin Timberlake a big enough star to put on high heels.
If this were 1997, or especially 1987, Stump's debut might put him on a similar path. What the world will make of this unabashed retro grunting and falsetto now, the mind reels. "Dance Miserable" is a good example of Stump's kitchen-sink approach, laying down a slinky rhythm and piling on heaving synthesizers, swelling harmonies, funk bass, occasional breakbeats, witty lyrics and rapping about various depressing reasons to start dancing. "Allie" comes on hard with a thundering, orchestrated intro like an Asia refrain before going all Maroon 5 in his wincing laments for the title temptress. The full-speed formula gets pretty exhausting near the end (a song called "Coast" is well-sequenced), and two versions of the Starship-esque "This City" -- you'd like it to be about Chicago, but the antecedent is vague enough for any chamber of commerce commercial and the video shows a skyline that's definitely not ours -- is a bit much, as if Stump's major-label marketers suggested it would be helpful to have one version that did not include the middle rap from Obama-terrorist-equating Lupe Fiasco.
Once you realize the early-MTV get-ups and the classic radio pop sound isn't a put-on, it's hard not to warm to Stump's particular peccadilloes, even if by the time it all wraps up you're still not sure whether he should go out opening for Chris Brown or the Lonely Island. Either way, it's a good summer album for the fall.
In concert: Catch Stump live again Nov. 11 @ Metro.
Two other fresh new albums rooted in '80s inspirations:
Kuedo, "Severant" (Planet Mu)  -- '90s dubstep fixture Jamie Teasdale (Vex'd) reincarnates here for a gripping instrumental album of emotionally resonant electronic sounds. Openly admitting that his touchstone for this project was Vangelis and the soundtrack to "Blade Runner," Teasdale delivers a tuneful and intriguing new take on Mike Oldfield or a less-groggy Tangerine Dream. His penchant for glitch also shows, believe it or not, a connection to Chicago footwork. If the government set up synthesizers to greet "Third Kind" aliens on the South Side, this might be what the close encounter would sound like.
M83, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" (Mute) [2.5 STARS] -- French musician Anthony Gonzalez returns with an ambitious double-album, 22 songs of washed-out synths and slow crescendos that are definitely suited for dreaming. He really dove into his '80s college-rock roots on 2008's "Saturdays=Youth," and here he refines the chiming sonic palate by broadening it. The whole of this album sounds tuned for big spaces, like a Simple Minds record. "Midnight City" ebbs and flows with a wonderfully refreshing, cool sound, then percolates toward its finish with a sexy sax solo. Totally.
In concert: M83's two Nov. 17 shows @ Lincoln Hall are already sold out!