Pete Wentz had the best take on Fall Out Boy when he said that his band was comprised of hard-core kids that couldn’t quite cut it as hard-core kids. “A lot of people take it the other way and are pop kids trying to write heavier music,” he told the Independent in 2006. “It gives us a different style because at our core we are always hardcore. That aspect is always going to be evident in the music.” There’s another statement meant to be read between the lines — namely that Fall Out Boy are uncool and they’re happy with that.
Unhip and melodramatic, Fall Out Boy turned their weaknesses into strengths. Meta and self-referential, their music was a winking emoji for all punks. Rather than follow the traditional course where every pop-punk group embraces pop with a bit of scorn and irreverence, Fall Out Boy ran headfirst into it. It’s these inclinations that make their second-act reinvention as a pop act not that surprising. Fall Out Boy always had a flair for the dramatic and their world-seizing ambition earned them plenty of scorn in the 2000s from people who have (hopefully by now) mellowed out and own a Robyn album or two. It’s been 15 years since Take This To Your Grave and since then, they’ve continued to regularly tour and record, recently releasing an EP named Lake Effect Kid. Lake Effect Kid featured one treat for fans who recognized the title track as a demo from the Folie à Deux era. With its heavy guitars and relatively boisterous production, Lake Effect Kid served as a bridge between the band’s pre- and post-hiatus careers. It only feels right to now look back at everything this Chicago pop powerhouse left in their wake. Here’s a selection of prime Fall Out Boy material for you to get started with.
Fall Out Boy’s debut seems so conventional when compared to their later stuff, even a tad slight. It’s a scary thought when you remember this was supposed to be a side project for hard-core kids. Fall Out Boy had no qualms about letting some of those influences sit hand-in-hand with traditional pop-punk elements such as their fondness for harsh vocals and hard-core-inspired dynamics that feel propulsive. Take This To Your Grave is miles away from the sneering, juvenile pop-punk bands like Green Day or Blink-182 ushered in but it doesn’t forget the most important thing: the songs must be played fast and loud. Songs like “Saturday” and “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy” hint at the kind of exuberant and elaborate songwriting the band would later perfect (and no surprise, are still played at shows today).
If Take This To Your Grave was the quirky indie movie, From Under the Cork Tree is the summer blockbuster sequel. It’s Fall Out Boy’s Dookie: every major element that made Take This… so good was blown up to gargantuan proportions. The guitars felt crunchier and the hooks sweeter; no longer beholden to the pop-punk dynamic, the band were writing pop music that burned bright and featured plenty of muscle and melody. From Under… stands up as a vocal showcase for Stump, who was no longer seemingly beholden to his inner Tom DeLonge, capable of transforming Wentz’s bitter lyricisms into caustic anthems. Play any song from the album and try to tell us it doesn’t bang. We dare you.
Intending to keep the momentum from From Under… going, the band decamped and began working on a follow-up. The result, Infinity On High, goes beyond what they previously did, opting for a diverse collection of pop songs directly reflecting their newfound fame. The band has no problem egging on naysayers by doubling down on what makes them great (ego-inflating song titles, worthy guitar hooks and Patrick Stump’s vocals) and embracing everything they got told to avoid (brass, strings, choirs and, uh, Babyface production and Jay-Z intros) and doing it well anyway. “This record more than any of the others has always reminded me of night time,” Pete Wentz wrote in 2017. “Both the anxiety of insomnia and the peace of being awake when everyone else is asleep.” It’s a telling description because Infinity On High does feel like the soundtrack to a long successful night out — hangovers included.
After an extended hiatus, Fall Out Boy returned with the tongue-in-cheek Save Rock and Roll. Gone are the guitars, replaced with synths and drum machines. Despite the major stylistic change, their penchant for melodramatics remains, and while we may question the validity of including a Big Sean guest feature now, what Save Rock and Roll does is succeed at re-envisioning the band as pop chameleons, seemingly capable of handling any change of scenery without immediately reaching for the ‘“throwback” button. Lead single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Them Up)” crackles with a glam energy and the chorus feels absolutely engineered for massive arena singalongs. Meanwhile, the title track is FOB’s biggest swinging-for-the-fences moment on the album, going as far as incorporating Elton John in its bombast.
Fall Out Boy’s third post-hiatus album marks the transformation from gutsy heart-on-their-sleeve rockers to pop wunderkinds. There’s barely any guitars whatsoever and the album starts with a massive EDM misfire, appropriately titled “Young and Menace.” Fortunately, M A N I A picks up steam after that and reveals the band’s songwriting instincts are as sharp as ever, running the gamut from trap to tropical house to stadium rock. And yes, Patrick Stump really does sing “I’m ’bout to go Tonya Harding on the whole world’s knee” at one point, all the while completely selling it.
Named for the studio it was created in and recorded with Ryan Adams manning the boards, PAX AM Days threatens to re-envision Fall Out Boy as a completely different band over the course of its hectic, chaotic 13-minute runtime. You’re thinking “really?” but trust us when we say the lowered stakes and lo-fi ’80s hardcore punk production bring out some of the band’s most frenetic and interesting songwriting.
If Infinity On High is the peak of Fall Out Boy’s first act, then Folie à Deux is supposed to crystallize the moment when their ambitions ran too sky-high. I’m here to tell you otherwise and here it goes takes a deep breath — Folie à Deux is a fine album, chock full of ambition and a careful eye for detail. Songs like “What A Catch, Donnie” felt like the meta-commentary/act of world-building bands like the 1975 would perfect a decade later. Folie à Deux is a little too much and plenty overwhelming but its big sin is not having a big hit on the level of a “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race.”
Also essential to mention: their cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” – how is it 2018 and we still don’t have more MJ covers? It’s a note-for-note remake, even going as far as recruiting John Mayer to do the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. But it works.
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