When music melds with its audience it becomes all powerful, and Fall Out Boy are the masters of that concept.
Fall Out Boy are a band that has been on the lips of teenagers and twenty-somethings alike for the greater part of the past decade. Staggering at the top of the charts for some time now, they've always managed to generate excitement surrounding new material.
Their hits obviously outnumber their misses. The melodic mash-up of punk zeal, soul flare coupled with the soaring poetic of a heartthrob in the throws of teenage angst, adult depression and the very distinct notion of mortality have made their songs a declaration of genius. Fall Out Boy's uncanny ability to reinvent themselves every time their songs are injected into the vein of the public keeps them at the forefront of innovation not only in pop-punk wonderland, but give them the ability to cross-genres and make an impact on a global scale.
Their latest effort American Beauty/American Psycho is a testament to the unruly duality of life and what we can do to cope with the darker parts of ourselves while still embracing the light.
In a world where singles outsell albums and sex is on fire Fall Out Boy have managed to surpass the magic of their past while still acknowledging its existence. Most of the time bands who are reaching for something new miss what made their past great, Fall Out Boy is one of the great exceptions.
The beginning of the record is reminiscent of a Michael Jackson horn line fused with the spirit of a stadium chant, like your favorite baseball player just hit a home run. Stump's vocal attack on lead-off Irresistible could make your heart beat out of your chest if you let it. Lyricist Pete Wentz described the track as an ode to fatal love, in the vein of Sid and Nancy, and you can tell. There's something fatalistic about this record, and Irresistible sets the tone.
The track is rife with metaphors and lyrics straight out of a transgressive fiction novel not yet written, "I love the way you hurt me, It's irresistible."
It is a testament to the fatal attraction we all have to the most dangerous thing available. A boyfriend with a habit, a girlfriend with a death wish. Wentz and Stump's songwriting collaboration is at its height.
After Irresistible fades from your ears the title track penetrates your ear canal like a q tip pushed in too far. Between the obvious hip-hop looping tribute the experimental nature of this record begins to hit you as vintage Fall Out Boy guitar attacks give way to a backboard beat easily transplanted from barbershop ragga. Sampling the Motley Cru classic, Too Fast for Love the song is a wonderful cacophony. This is also the first time on the record we hear the fully realized concept, and understand that this album is rooted in duality. Beauty versus Psychosis. What's really the driving force behind creativity? Aside from the musical acrobatics perfectly designed by Stump the title track establishes a sound signature for this album: a pop infused beat laden dream-scape for anyone with a pension for heartache and abandonment issues. Addressing the clear cut black and white spectrum of what makes a human deviate from the normal.
As you recover, Centuries sucker-punches you in the gut. As Pete's declaration of immortality proclaims: "I can't stop till the whole world knows my name" we're hit with another sample, this time from Susan Vega's Tom's Diner a song best known for playing in shopping malls, only hitting your ear on your way out, but in this track it is center stage. It is a slick pop track masquerading as a stadium rock anthem, and Stump has to know this. The egocentric lyrics are just enough to pump up any athlete and will definitely be ringing in the ears of anyone with a type A personality for years to come.
But with pomp inevitably comes circumstance. Stump and Wentz are tactful in the placing of the tracks on the album, with the anthemicCenturies giving way to the hauntingly sobering ode to lost youth and melancholy, The Kids Aren't Alright. Arguably my favorite track on the record, it encapsulates the feeling of driving around your hometown long after the graduation ceremony, windows down regretting the past and dealing with the uncertainty of a future. Stump is at his finest in the soul department here, really living through the madness of uncertain relationships and the idea that not being okay is in fact, just fine. Musically, the song's tactful piano accents transcend its simple drum driven backdrop and make it harrowing and dillusionally brilliant. Trohman's lead lines are sparse, but just enough to remind you that Fall Out Boy is in fact a rock band experimenting with modernity.
Toward the center of the record we enter the realm that we know: splashy choruses and deep subjects, obscure cultural references and the Munster's theme song. All of those things are present in the projected third single, Uma Thurman. The track, of course named after the actress of Pulp Fiction fame referencing the famous scene of coked out extravagance in a themed restaurant dance contest. The Munster's sample is key in projecting the cinematic mood of the song down-casting any doubts that this record is anything but original. Familiar melodics are present for the vintage Fall Out Boy fan in the bridge as Stump croons, "And I slept in last night's clothes/ and tomorrow's dreams/ are not quite what they seem." Shuffling between reality and musical space, we can almost see Travolta driving down the desert highway between Mia Wallace's estate and his own.
As his drive continues, the song changes over to Jetpack Blues the most clearly melodic song on the record soars over top of minimal instrumentation fueled only by the driving force of Stump's near perfect delivery, enunciated to perfection and harmonic to the point of madness. The bells ringing on the down beat remind you of an old Who track and then you're reminded that his is 21st Century Rock and Roll with the addition of a punchy electronic undertow that if you don't listen clearly enough will suck you to the bottom. Toward the bridge we hear a sentimental drift out of Stump, stripped down to acoustic guitar reminiscent of tracks from unreleased sessions like those between Infinity on High and Folie a Deux the middle children of Fall Out Boy's career. This is another one of those songs you hear when someone you love utters your name for the last time before walking away. "Baby come home."
Travolta exits the car and turns off the radio. Playing in the darkness of night is Novocaine which opens like a filtered Kanye West track, unapologetic and over produced in the best way possible. Stump's voice echoes over the electronic noise curated to fight the beauty of the melody. It definitely belongs to the Psycho side of the record. The backboard shuffle beat makes another appearance and you can almost see the droves of young adults jumping up and down in synchronized bliss while Stump calls them to arms, "I feel like the battle's gonna swallow me whole/ I feel like a photo that's been overexposed."
Fourth of July follows in glossy perfection. It is the most pop-centric track in the most traditional way. Stump shows off his vocal prowess with range and immediate attack. The quiet moments of the verses give way to an anthemic swell of melancholy toward the center of the track. The harmonies that topple all over eachother in the chorus have become a Fall Out Boy mainstay in recent history and make the track unique to anything that has come before it. It putters along with explosions of grandeur and lyrics that are purely lovelorn in the worst way, unrequited and regretful making them real in a sea of love songs that center on sex and admiration it is honest, "I'm sorry every song's about you...like the torture of small talk with someone you used to love." Its in these bits of literary brilliance that you wonder why Wentz isn't considered this generation's Hemingway by everyone.
Keeping the melodic pleasantries going Favorite Record makes you think of driving in a different way: with the love of your life, for that moment anyway. "You were the song/ stuck in my head/ every song I ever loved. I'll spin for you/ like your favorite record used to." The lyrics speak to an almost temporary undying loyalty. Like a high school relationship that lives past its expiration date, holding on to the times that mattered. The song only focuses on those times. It is pleasantly melodic and will get stuck in your head at an instant. What anchors the track, is the accent of Andy Hurley tactfully placed drum fills, almost swelling with Stump's voice, supporting it on an almost subterranean level. The "oh's" of this song are a prehistoric Fall Out Boy staple that no fan, at any point in their career could resist.
Immortals being released as a companion track to Disney/Pixar's Big Hero Six was a huge risk for the band, mixing sparse electronic soundscapes with a big rock and roll chorus, especially so close to the reintroduction of the band following the epic Save Rock and Roll and Youngblood Chronicles conclusion. I appreciated the guts most fans didn't, however in the grandiosity of the tracks that come before it, it doesn't quite live up to my first impression of it's riskiness. In an album full of danger, it seems commonplace and that's alright so close to the end of the album. Not to say you can't see yourself whizzing down a desert highway singing to the skies about your immortality, because it'll happen.
As we gear up to get off the ride of AB/AP we're hit with one final blow, Twin Skeletons (Hotel in NYC) a scathing examination of forgotten memories and fame induced comas. Describing a scene of desperation Wentz's lyrics and Stump's soundscape take us through the last moments of a band possessed by greatness. The song marries things that usually don't work together. It is dysfunctional but glorious.The breakdown toward the end of the track glows like candles lit in order to burn down a church. Its gospel roots are showing, multitracked voices soar over a drum beat that echoes like a scream from the bottom of a mine. The album closes with the chanting of one simple phrase, "Hold on" as it fades into the electronic abyss of music today. The gospel chorus comes in at the end like an invisible hand grabbing yours for safety: a glimmer of danger, a glimmer of hope and a dash of madness.
I can see this record accompanying me in the waning days of the summer of the dead nights of the winter. This album proves the notion I have lived by: that pop music and art music are the same damn thing. With risk comes reward; with experiments come results. American Beauty/American Psycho is a testament to danger and all who follow its path. You can choose to shy away from what scares you or you can run at it without reservation, and with this record Fall Out Boy have run to the edge, with no greater thrill in sight except jumping off.