On album number seven, their second since returning from their hiatus, Fall Out Boy take the epic builds and releases of Save Rock and Roll and, against all odds, push that energy even further without collapsing under the weight of their own ambition.
Considering the un-credited guest spot by Lil Wayne on “Tiffany Blews” off Folie a Deux, the opener “Irresistible” is no surprise. Equal parts pop-punk stabs, hip-hop cadence, and horn-blared bombast, this is an all-hands-on-deck welcome back track to set the stage. The track that immediately follows this, “American Beauty/American Psycho”, is one of the few tracks on this outing that feels like a relic from the band’s beginnings. The pop trimmings are toned down in favor of a frenetic stomp ripped straight out of the Pax Am Days playbook, lending a welcome blast of diversity to an album that is occasionally in danger of being consumed by its own over-the-top energy.
“Centuries” is a classically grandiose stadium sing-along in the Fall Out Boy tradition by way of Suzanne Vega. They show off their sampling chops yet again on “Uma Thurman”, a number of effervescent surf-rock charm by way of the Munsters. Both of these are a fine take on the method of building a track around a familiar sample, but can feel a bit underwhelming, as the band’s prior output shows them to have a knack for earworm hooks that have no reliance on pre-established samples to carry them through.
Lead vocalist Patrick Stump stated in an interview that the band was attempting to mirror the more topical approach of DJ / hip-hop artists with the ability to more easily create commentary through musical expression. In practical terms, this is not an easy task for a rock/pop record. A quick search would reveal that many well-regarded or even what some call “classic” albums were recorded over the space of months, even years. (Those in the latter category are the exception rather than the rule.) So just how “topical” could Fall Out Boy sound, and how good could the album be, recorded as it was in the space of just over three weeks, compressed into the final months of 2014?
Where topicality is concerned, they mostly get the message out, with “Novocaine” reportedly inspired by the events in Ferguson. It’s a track that lyrically gets the point across, but musically it shows the strain of trying to craft a tune within a compressed time frame. Some more tweaking could have potentially helped the track, but the more time elapses between start to finish, the more the topical impact diminishes. Quibbles aside, the band has shown here they have a decent grasp on how best to use this approach. How well it translates on future albums when pasted on top of the pop/rock/punk bombast that is their bread and butter remains to be seen.
Stepping away from the bombast, this album reveals itself to be an exercise in both levels of extremes. While the fast tracks pummel, the ballads quietly strum away in the corner, but no less noticeable for that fact. “The Kids Aren’t Alright” forms the perfect yin/yang companion to the title track. “Jet Pack Blues” comes across a bit overeager, but it begs to be re-done live in a form tailor made to get the lighters waving. Further on in the proceedings, “Immortals” shows up to throw a monkey wrench into the machine. It’s a track that still sounds like Fall Out Boy, but coming as it did from the Big Hero 6 soundtrack, it doesn’t quite fit as well with the rest of what is on display here. A confusing change of background also proves a bit of a head-scratcher; on the pre-release cut, the percussion is all marching-band strident, but on the album version much of that power is stripped away.)
Fall Out Boy have defined their sound and vision going forward with American Beauty/American Psycho. What exists here is a reasonably entertaining blueprint; the follow-up will tell if they can keep the momentum built here going or not.