Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oh Those Salad Days of Youth

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I love Fall Out Boy.

Sssshh. I don't want to hear it. You can bag on them all you want. I've been a fan of them for ten years now, and I've dealt with a lot of shit from people poo-pooing my favorite band.

What do I like about Fall Out Boy, hypothetical reader I'm using to fuel points for my blog post? I'm glad you asked.

I genuinely dig Patrick Stump's voice. Yes, it's high, but he has some really impressive range when he shows it off. They play in a genre of alternative rock that was popular when I was in high school, so that sound will always be associated with my youth and my formative years for music. And their lyrics. Good God, I love their lyrics. Their lyrics could elevate otherwise average sounding songs to really good and really good songs to extraordinary. They were often darkly funny, arrogant, poetic, and to listen to.

But wait, I hear my hypothetical reader I'm using to fuel my blog post say, why are you using past tense? They just put out a new album.


It's not that their new album sucks...necessarily.

Look, man. I'm just gonna admit, Fall Out Boy is a weak point for me. I'll listen to whatever they put out and not give a fuck. I'm sorry. I'm only a weak human. But yes, their newest album is...rough.

I first started listening to FOB when I was a sophomore in high school. From Under the Cork Tree had just come out, and the cynical, snide lyrics and defiant declaration that NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME was exactly the headspace I was in at the time. But the album was good. Damn good. Good guitars, good lyrics. Very good.

Their follow up was good, but didn't quite hit my jackpot button like the previous one did. Don't get me wrong, I really liked it, and listened to it incessantly, but Infinity on High somehow didn't quite capture something that Cork Tree did. (I didn't know Take this to Your Grave existed for years, and when I found out, I just...didn't ever get around to listen to it. I know, I'm terrible.) But still, Infinity was a good album, it just didn't have quite the personal resonance that their previous album did.

Then Folie A Deux came. That album was goddamned amazing in my opinion. On the one hand, it was a pretty big departure from their previous efforts. You couldn't really hear their punk-ish tones anymore. But that was okay because the lyrics were still there (I'm coming apart at the seams / pitching myself for leads in other people's dreams / now / Doc, there's a hole where something was / Doc there's a hole where something was). And the music was still there, but it had become something even more. It was more complex, more blended, more interesting, a blend of the guitars-and-drums sound they had before now with pianos, brass horns, choirs. You could hear some of this in Infinity on High, but in my opinion, they perfected it in Folie.

Then they broke up. I was sad, but, I mean, every band breaks up eventually. Or they keep touring to the point where it's embarrassing. So I was okay. And Andy Hurley and Joe Trohman went on to play in The Damned Things, which was different but AWESOME.

When they got back together, I was nervous. I enjoyed their new single at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I felt like it was all build up and no pay off. Before, they would have used that darker, slightly slower sound to build up to some bombastic amazing chorus or bridge. But instead, what you hear is pretty much what you get. And the lyrics were very repetitive--although I did like the sort of glam-rock "I'm on FIIIIIIIIIIIIRE" scream.

One thing that was apparent in Save Rock N' Roll...they were definitely shooting for a more poppy sound.

Except for "Rat a Tat," which I can't listen to because Courtney Love ruins that song--not because she's Courtney Love, but because I swear to God it sounds like she loses time with the music and they couldn't bring themselves to say, "Can we try that one again, ma'am?"--I've listened to Save Rock N' Roll a lot. If old FOB were titling the album--the FOB that titled their first album Fall Out Boy's Evening Out With Your Girlfriend--they would have titled it Fall Out Boy Tries Their Hand at Popular Musical Styles or something of the like. It feels like a snapshot of pop-music sounds from the early 2010's. But it didn't really have a consistent sound, and as Emma Maree pointed out on Twitter, it sounds like bored experimenting.

So where does that leave their new album, American Beauty/American Psycho? Well...

There are some stand out songs, as usual: "Centuries" is pretty close to Folie FOB, blending rock sounds and piano in a haunting cry for immorality. "Novocaine" has classic FOB lyrics: "If you knew / knew what the bluebirds sing at you / you would never sing along." And I dig "Twin Skeletons" for it's more alt-rock vibe that FOB used to be known for.

There are other songs I enjoy on the album, but what struck me as I listened to the album is how generic a lot of it sounds. "Favorite Record" could be by anyone making music right now. There's no trademark or innovation that makes me think "Fall Out Boy." "Jet Pack Blues" has some promise--I love a dark, bluesy sound, and Stump warbling in his lower register--but the chorus is literally just "Baby...come home!" It sounds like something rejected by N'Sync. And "Fourth of July" compares young love to fireworks...just...really? And then there's, "In between being young and being right / you were my Versailles at night." Ugh.

Like I said, I listen to and love Fall Out Boy. I've listened to this album over and over and over. I like Patrick Stumps vocals, I like to sing along, and there are little flashes of good in this. For a pop album, it's not bad. It's catchy, and better than a lot of dreck that plays on the radio anymore. But ultimately, I was really disappointed. Each album they've released since their break up has made me appreciate their previous albums more and more. Infinity on High is no longer my least that's something.

What I hope these past two albums means is that they're experimenting, and they'll eventually find their footing. If I were to describe American Beauty/American Psycho in a word it would be: loud. In a phrase: generic, with flashes of brilliance. I hope they can work through whatever they're working through, and I hope their next album really surprises me. When 5 Seconds of Summer does your sound better than you need to think about what you're doing and maybe re-evaluate.

*puts on headphones* *blasts Folie A Deux*