Review Summary: a stylistically confused release, Fall Out Boy still manage to deliver power-pop sing-a-longs
“Signing off, ‘I’m alright in bed but I’m better with a pen.’ The kid was alright but it went to his head.” In the latest release from the pop-punk sensation that a Radiohead fan hates to love, we find Fall Out Boy in an awkward position: namely, how does one follow up a well received hit record without falling short nor becoming a slave to the system? Lyricist/bassist Pete Wentz responds with a tale of fame that has led to bitterness towards bandwagon listeners and a case of “the red carpet blues.” One should expect a certain frustration and difficulty from Wentz in his dealings with a catch-the-train fame. His constant self-awareness is part of what made From Under The Cork Tree such a strong album and his ability to poeticize the circumstance and wear his heart on his sleeve is what is so endearing about the lyrical content. Yet Fall Out Boy seem to have hit a sour spot here in Infinity On High.
Previously, the insecurity of adolescent love was front and center, and this FOB does well. When required to respond to fame and success, however, the band gets a little tied up. If they “only want to sing you to sleep” we must ask why artists lately seemed so compelled to make albums that shallowly serve as a mirror of their lives instead of using their craft to create something that rises above and extends beyond their existence. Hip-hop culture has been doing this for years and apparently more than just Jay-Z’s opening track shout-out has encouraged the boys, as Wentz writes about the band’s success with forced arrogance. Fall Out Boy want to seem as if their cover story career was not important to them and that their “hearts beat for the diehards”, but their preoccupation with their own fame throughout the album forsakes them. Although, we do have many of the heartbreak driven songs that propelled them to the spotlight two years ago and by these tracks the album is driven, in spite of the lack of musical cohesiveness and lyrical continuity.
Highlights of the album include “The Take Over, The Breaks Over”, a hyper-catchy riff-driven tune that sings of love “in the dark with smiles on our faces”, highly reminiscent of From Under The Cork Tree’s “Of All The Gin Joints In All The World” where Stump sings “turn off the lights and turn off the shyness…” And here again it works, largely due to the fact that by the time the chorus comes in you’ve already got your fix of strong melody with “wouldn’t you rather be a widow than a divorcee” in the previous section. Lead singer Patrick Stump must be applauded for his ability to write songs that sing as if they have multiple choruses, with verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, as one melodic section crescendos into the next. Contrary to popular belief it is no more less creative or less challenging to write memorable melodies than to compose a sonically challenging song. In actuality, FOB take the more difficult route and aim for tunes that are impossible to forget. Many bands try to give you a song that you can sing to; Fall Out Boy succeeds in doing so.
Following the aforementioned track we have the strong single “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”. Driven by a moderate paced four-on-the-floor club beat, we are attacked by Stump’s throaty vocals and catchy hooks. An excellent single with the usual pop-punk chorus, yet the novelty wears off quickly.
Two appearances by producer Babyface make for unbalanced efforts. “I’m Like A Lawyer…” doesn’t work for the rock outfit and seems to belong more to a pop/rock multi-vocalist outfit with thick harmonies (read here as dc Talk) and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” stays memorable with “he tastes like you only sweeter” and lends the ear to a refreshing acoustic/flamenco guitar section half-way through to which I assume credit belongs to Babyface.
“Hum Hallelujah” returns the boys back to form and has a nice ode to Leonard Cohen hidden in the bridge and “Golden” happens to be the most interesting approach by the band on this outing. A two-and-a-half minute haunting piano ballad that is unique and an impressive sign of what Fall Out Boy might be capable of in the future. Had Babyface got his hands on this one don’t think I’d say the same. Contrary to their typical sound, this track somehow is very Fall Out Boy.
“Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” and “Bang The Doldrums” remind of earlier days when it was simply about crunching guitars and catchy lines. Also, it is worth noting that “Bang…” does have a strange misstep with its “yo-ho-oh” section, which awkwardly sounds like A.F.I.
As the album begins to wind down we find Wentz writing “I am God’s gift but why would he bless me with such wit without a conscience equipped.” One begins to think this track could be an apology for the arrogance and self-concern exhibited throughout the album, but it more likely is introspection into his relationship woes.
Infinity On High closes with a more simple tune with a horn intro which makes us feel like we’re getting into the ring with Apollo after months of training only to switch gears suddenly at the minute mark as it becomes a sing-song tune of reconciliation.
Overall, what we seem to miss most in Fall Out Boy’s fourth LP is the honest straightforward pop-punk of accelerated verse, sing-able chorus, and dynamic bridge, which have been traded in for increased variety and production value. The most noticeable shortcoming being that there is not a single bridge on the album that comes down to piano (that’s softly and quietly in music talk) and then builds back into the hook. This is a simple pop gimmick, noticeable in earlier tracks like “Of All The Gin Joints…” and “Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner”, and is a guaranteed emotional charge for any song. In the latest release we find these bridges to be over-sung and hasty.
While a stylistically confused release, typical for young bands who’ve recently garnished national attention, Infinity On High does not let down. Power-pop melodies that will stick with you days after hearing them and lyrics (when abandoning narcissism) that run like a spoken version of Garden State, Fall Out Boy have given all listeners, whether the bandwagon is full or not, something to sing, until their lungs give out.
3.5 / 5 stars
- “The Take Over, The Break’s Over”
- “Hum Hallelujah”