A long, long time ago, in mid-2005, when Fall Out Boy had not one but two radio hits responsible for taking the ultra-seriousness of the ‘emo’ subgenre and making it something fun, some trend-spotters wisely predicted that the market would soon be swamped by imitation bands. Well, it’s now one and a half years later since their explosion to the forefront of the scene, along with Panic! at the Disco, who have more or less followed in their footsteps, and My Chemical Romance, who are more or less their chemical opposites, and the sophomore to their breakout From Under the Cork Tree, but third album overall, titled Infinity on High, is everything you’d expect: catchy, digestable, and with not a straight-faced moment on the entire disc, but they’re also making it very hard for any coypcats to follow in their footsteps.
“Bandwagon’s full, please catch another,” lead singer Patrick Stump bleats on the thumping single “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arm’s Race”. It’s self-referential statements like these that give the impression that Fall Out Boy, unlike the Killers, aren’t smug or even happy about spearheading their trend, and that there’s no way you’ll find them re-running a formula they unknowingly invented to cash in. Infinity on High is a record that is wildly exciting and experimental, and that at least demands respect. An utter cliché to throw in here is that a casual listener would not be able to recognize a random selection from this album on the radio, but in this case, it seems to be true: it may be blasphemous to say that the band are taking the same route as Nirvana did with In Utero in response to fame (without the frontman), but that’s what it most resembles.
And even if a guest spot from a rap producer who opens the album on a song called “Thriller” (in honor of the Michael Jackson album, if Rolling Stone is to be believed) will never, ever belong on a Fall Out Boy CD, there are plenty of hooks to fuel their evolution and make a splash on the charts: “Fix me in 45” (from “Thriller”), the sleazy drawl of “Me and you / Sitting in a hu-uu-neymoon” (“I’m Like A Lawyer With the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off”) and, of course, the chorus of “This Ain’t A Scene…”. There’s no indication that anything within the lines, “This ain’t a scene, it’s a god! damn! arm’s! race!” makes any sense at all, and it’s now the second song within a year to feature “goddamn” as a pivotal word, but the uber-slick production boosts the lingering electronics and relentless “ooh-ooh-ooh” backing into perfect bubblegum material, along with a chant of the above phrase in the very center that’s bound to be heavily used in stadiums this year. This will be the best overplayed mindless hit of the year, I’m sure of it.
Please don’t think, either, that the band members don’t give guitarist Joe Trohman ample time to take over the music with a stomping riff—just look at “Fame
< Infamy", which kindly explains why fame is lesser than infamy, or "Carpal Tunnel of Love", which has one of the genre's most energetic guitar hooks this side of Jimmy Eat World's "Nothingwrong". On "You're Crashing, But You're No Wave", they actually appear to be taking aim at Evanescence by dropping a well-placed ornamental choir after Stump asks "Isn't it tragic?"; this is what you get, Amy Lee, when all you do is complain about your ex-boyfriend. They even do a spirited take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", one of the most covered songs on Earth, on "Hum Hallelujah"... No song is safe from Fall Out Boy.
If there's one thing the disc really needs, then, it's a time of momentary reflection on behalf of the group, in which the listener can catch their breath: all we've got here is "Golden", a fairly dull piano ballad that, although very brief, is more like a stopgap between two upbeat songs. The moping passes soon enough, though, and pretty soon you're back tapping your foot to "Thanks for the Memories".
Fall Out Boy have made a very smart move indeed in the face of criticism: they've proved they have talent enough to progress in sound --
Infinity on High is notably better than their previous installment. To introduce some more ridiculously catchy beats and one very great single, and slyly lash out at all their haters at the same time. The lyrics are loaded with witty lines that can be read into one way or another. In addition, since there’s no profanity on the band’s third album, and thus no need for a parental advisory sticker, perhaps this should be printed on them instead: Warning: Do not take this content seriously, or suffer from your own extreme idiocy. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. As long as you remember that, you should find it’s a very enjoyable disc, and that’s why there’s absolutely no guilt in naming it one of the guiltiest pleasures of the (early) year.
// Notes from the Road
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