Review Summary: Believers never die.
It’s a story you’ve heard a million times before, with a slightly different ending. A hugely popular mainstream band sees their seemingly unstoppable career momentum grind to a screeching halt, due to forces largely beyond their control. Whether it’s due to changing musical tastes, a genre loosing its mainstream appeal, creative missteps or pure bad luck - something
doesn’t go according to plan, and the band falls out of favor because of it, often in spectacularly dramatic fashion. In this case, the victims in question are Chicago pop punk stalwarts Fall Out Boy, and the story seems particularly cliched and predictable. As the pop punk genre fell out of fashion in the waning years of the 2000’s, the band fought to combat irrelevancy by releasing the experimental, multi-faceted Folie a Deux
, an album that flopped spectacularly on a commercial level, widely dismissed by casual and hardcore fans alike. This led to internal tensions within the group that eventually manifested themselves in an indefinite hiatus.
For most bands, that would be the only part of the story worth mentioning. Oh, there would be the eventual cash-in reunion tour to ride the coattails of nostalgia, but nothing notable would come of it other than paychecks. However, Fall Out Boy’s reunion actually produced new music of consequence, and even more improbably, it was nearly as successful as that of their peak. And yet, their detractors would say that they never really
came back… those critics argue Fall Out Boy’s new music was successful only in that it co-opted mainstream trends that had taken hold in the group’s absence, and the only way they managed to still have a career at all was by abandoning everything that gave them their own unique identity. Fall Out Boy had “sold out” in the most blatant manner imaginable. End of story, close the chapter, move on to the next book.
But it’s not really that simple, is it" How is it that four pop punk kids from Illinois, members of a group that was derided by so many as “just another emo band”, are so attuned to pop culture that they managed to disappear for nearly half a decade and then reemerge to a level of sustained success that rivals their peak" How is it that “just another emo band” can go straight to #1 on the charts with their comeback album, and then have the follow-up
to that comeback album be forecasted to also hit #1" In short, how
Well dear reader, I’ll tell you how. Fall Out Boy are some of the most clever pop scholars currently operating in the music business today, and their continued success is not
an accident. Beneath all the tabloid headlines, woefully inaccurate genre labels and fat frontman jokes, lies four incredibly well rounded musicians and students of the art form of popular music. These men know what it takes to have a hit song, and they have known since the beginning. The same quirky sensibility and penchant for great melodies that made Take This to Your Grave
and From Under the Cork Tree
pop punk classics is in effect on American Beauty / American Psycho
, and it grounds the band’s most sonically diverse album to date in the same foundation that has led to success throughout their career - the great songwriting. As soon as the opening trumpets announce the start of “Irresistible”, one thing is clear - this is Fall Out Boy’s well-deserved victory lap, their call to arms to all the fans whose band of choice was written off by seemingly everyone, even those within the pop punk genre. The message is loud and clear: There are a million reasons to dislike this band, to tell yourself why they shouldn’t matter. This album is a celebration of all the reasons they do
matter, and will for a long time to come. From the soaring vocal hook on “Novocaine”, to the Beach Boys-tinged guitar line on the infinitely danceable “Uma Thurman”, to the emotional sucker punch of “The Kids Aren’t Alright”, this is an album that’s comfortable in its own shoes and is a distillation of the core elements that make up great Fall Out Boy songs - clever Pete Wentz lyrical twists, amazing (and improved) vocals from Patrick Stump, and great melodies - spread over a significantly wider sonic canvas. These tracks are full of quirky twists and turns in a way that was largely absent on Save Rock and Roll
, and the album is better for it.
The huge pop hooks present throughout are undeniable, and they are anchored by characteristically strong verses, complete with some of the most passionate vocal performances Patrick Stump has ever delivered on record. Perhaps surprisingly, the emotional centerpiece of the record isn’t in one of the many high-energy anthems, but in the slower build of “The Kids Aren’t Alright”, in many ways the best track this band has written since their hiatus. The lyrics are on a basic level about giving a former lover a new chance, but they can also be interpreted as a love letter to the band’s loyal fans. The song starts on a melancholy, hopeless note:
“Stuck in the jet wash
Bad trip I couldn’t get off
And maybe I bit off more than I could chew
And overhead of the aqua blue”
This moment represents the band members’ collective low point, after Folie a Deux
had flopped and they had gone their separate ways, dejected and jaded, leading unsuccessful solo careers. Yet despite all of their self-doubt and cynicism towards the music industry, capped off in an infamous 2012 blog post by Patrick Stump in which he bemoaned being a “27 [year old] has-been” (http://www.absolutepunk.net/showthread.php"t=2649172), the song builds to a triumphant hook:
“And in the end
I’d do it all again
I think you’re my best friend
Don’t you know that the kids aren't all, kids aren’t alright"”
Despite being chewed up and spit out by popular culture, their life’s work being made into a big punchline, the members of Fall Out Boy decided they would do it all again, because they knew there are
still kids out there who wanted their favorite band back, who had supported their musical heroes through every setback, even turning Folie a Deux
into a cult classic. They are the reason this band still exists, and this record is the band’s way of saying thank you. Coming from a group whose comeback seemed incredibly unlikely a mere two years ago, American Beauty / American Psycho
signals loud and clear that the story of Fall Out Boy is still going strong.