Growing up is hard. No ones knows that better than Chicago pop-punk alumni Fall Out Boy. They’ve been through it all – the huge breakthrough, the mainstream success that followed, a risky experimental phase before a brief hiatus. Two years previous, the band returned to the charts with ‘Save Rock & Roll’. It can’t be said for certain that the band salvaged the genre, but they certainly put a new spin on it.
New LP ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ delivers a bite more akin to said genre. This is an album fueled by rage, albeit of a diluted kind, suitable for the emo die-hards they count as fans.
Key to this formula is singer Patrick Stump’s powerhouse vocals. Possessing a seriously impressive range, he almost makes it sound easy on The Kids Aren’t Alright and college football anthem Centuries. The powerful vocals heard on previous records even sound tame compared to what’s on show here. He bitterly spits on Novocaine, shrieks on Fourth of July, before coming to a snarling to a halt on Immortals.
This sucker punch of emotional energy, paired with bassist Pete Wentz’s lyrics, makes for the musical equivalent of growing pains – often uncomfortable and close to the bone. It is admirable – if slightly worrying – that Wentz has managed to channel the same adolescent rage and misery despite nearing middle age and being a father to two children. It’s unclear as to whether the title of The Kids Aren’t Alright is supposed to be ironic, or he genuinely is just a manchild.
At the end of the day, it is Stump that provides the credibility, when it comes to singing lyrics like, “I didn’t come for a fight, but I will fight ’til the end”, on Irresistible, and, “Us, we were pity sex, nothing more and nothing less”, on the title track.
The band’s last two LPs were pretty formulaic. ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ is no exception. The majority of the songs on the album are compromised of aimless, lazy repetition. The word ‘dance’ loses meaning on Favorite Record. If you say, ‘”Baby, come home” six times in an emotional manner, you know the chorus to Jet Pack Blues off by heart.
When they do deviate from this, the results are considerably better. Lead single Centuries is an absolute boot-stomper of a track, and their courageous decision to sample Suzanne Vega means its sure to be cemented in memory from the first listen. Immortals, which features in Disney’s latest smash hit, ‘Big Hero 6’, showcases Stump’s new-found tenacity perfectly, with a pan-pipe intro and techno inspired guitars, (yes, you did read that correctly).
Closing song Twin Skeletons (Hotel In NYC) encapsulates the best aspects of the record: Stump’s vocal gymnastics, Wentz’s poisonous barbs, with guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley bringing up the rear with raucous, spooky instrumentation.
The men of Fall Out Boy are spinning a lot of plates on this album, and the amount of risks they took is admirable. They sampled everyone from Vega to Motley Crue to The Munsters’ theme song. The pop culture references are too numerous to list. It would have been very easy to release another ‘From Under The Cork Tree’, and it stands to them that they didn’t.
Nostalgia can cause us to look at things in a more favourable light than usual. It is hard to ignore the band’s successes in the past when it comes to ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’. This is a good album, not a great album, despite its best intentions.
Today FM DJ Louise Duffy recently tweeted about the album, suggesting that the band should stop after this album. It’s hard not to agree with her.