Review Summary: Folie A Deux's A-material stands up alongside that of previous albums, but Infinity On High is still the standard-bearer.
It’s a good three months now since Folie A Deux
’s first single ‘I Don’t Care’ was unveiled: it came without an awful lot of fanfare and, ultimately, went without a huge amount of interest. It landed just outside the Billboard top twenty, a fat contrast to the worldwide chart-topping ‘This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,’ the lead track from 2007’s Infinity On High
. The publicity surrounding the album has been similarly low-key: the ambitious release date of November 4th, designed to coincide with the US Presidential election, was pushed back a full six weeks because- quote- ”this is not the election to be cute.”
It’s a reasonable explanation, but not particularly convincing: it was a economic decision. Strategic delays are commonplace in the business-savvy worlds of hip hop and r&b, where first-week sales mean (almost) everything, but rock music is seen as being a little less cynical, rightly or wrongly. As it happens, the delay only served to suck any momentum from the campaign and the album limped into the top ten.
Musically, Folie A Deux
is a baby step development on Infinity On High
. There’s no show-stopping hip hop cameo, despite guest turns from Lil’ Wayne and Pharrell, and any lingering hardcore punk associations have been laid firmly to rest, but those are minor adjustments. In their stead comes a renewed reliance on flashy, multi-layered vocals, used to great effect on ‘Thnks Fr Th Mmrs’ but too often abused here to spit-polish mediocre fare. The only really new influence is fleeting: ‘I Don’t Care’ is about as far removed from the spirit of the ‘60s as humanly possible, but the boogie guitar shuffle is copped straight from Norman Greenbaum’s evergreen classic ‘Spirit In The Sky,’ itself a close cousin of John Lee Hooker’s signature tune ‘Boogie Chillun.’ Brendon Urie of Panic At The Disco lends his voice to ’20 Dollar Nose Bleed,’ a straightforward pop duet that would have been a choice cut on the latter’s Beatles-aping album Pretty. Odd.
earlier this year, while opener ‘Disloyal Order Of Water Buffaloes’ pinches the epic piano sequence from the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley,’ making it work in a completely different context.
However, the bulk of Folie A Deux
will be achingly familiar to fans of Infinity On High
and From Under The Cork Tree
, and it’s not always the good sort of ache. The aforementioned opener is good, but it’s hard to ignore the lingering expectation that it will morph into the ‘Car Crash Hearts’ at any moment, and the slight disappointment when it doesn’t. ‘West Coast Smoker’ and ‘w.a.m.s’ are brutal, marrying tacky dance rock guitars with drab melodies and disastrously under-engaging lyrics about drugs and, er, drugs respectively. ‘27’ proceeds along very similar lines but it saved by the effortlessly cool wordplay that is, lamentably, too often missing from the album: “My body is an orphanage- we take everyone in / Doing lines of dust and sweat off last night’s stage, just to feel like you”
It’s moments like these that underline Wentz’s often downplayed importance to the band: when he’s on form, Stump tends to come up with the goods, but when his lyrics are poor, the music tends to slump in sympathy.
For all its faults, Folie A Deux
does come up with the goods just often enough to warrant repeat listens. At their peak, Stump and Wentz are a devastating partnership. ‘Tiffany Blews’ is contemporary pop gold, fusing Batdance
-era cheesy synths with an autotune-heavy vocal hook reminiscent of Akon, while the chorus is a gift to any singer: “oooh baby, you’re a classic, just like the little black dress / But you’ll be faded soon.”
‘America’s Suitehearts’ channels underrated ‘90s retro pop act Jellyfish, while standout track ‘The (Shipped) Gold Standard’ and second single ‘Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet’ showcase just why Patrick Stump is considered one of the best, if not the best, singer in modern pop music, shifting effortlessly from a comically deep voice to a ball-busting falsetto. Elvis Costello’s much-publicised turn on ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ is disappointing- his only contribution is to repeat the chorus from ‘Headfirst Slide...’ amid what sounds like an overblown ego piece about “how far we’ve come” etc.- but it does underline the flattering similarities between the great English singer and his Chicagoan understudy.
Ultimately, though Folie A Deux
is by no means a disaster, it is a disappointment following on from the incredible promise of Infinity On High
’s punk pop/funk rock fusion. As interesting and as daring as Fall Out Boy continue to be, it’s difficult to shrug the feeling that Folie A Deux
is just a little too conventional, that they’ve rested a little too heavily on their laurels and come out a little bit jaded. This is best represented in Wentz’s lyrics: usually, it’s a headache just to pick out the most eminently quotable lyrics from a Fall Out Boy album; on Folie A Deux
, for every ‘Tiffany Blews’ there’s the lame cheerleading of ‘(Coffee’s For Closers).’ His obsession with fame, drugs and fame-related drug-taking gets boring long before the record’s 13 tracks play out in full, and his forays into political (read: pro-Obama) commentary are sincere, but no less nauseating as a result. Disappointing early sales aside, Folie A Deux
will do well because its A-material stands up alongside that of previous albums, but over the full fifty minutes or so, Infinity On High
is still the standard-bearer.