Friday, December 12th 2008
Reviews: Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy are great at what they do: writing catchy punky-pop songs with a flare of sexy teenage danger, that hoodies-n’-heartbreak-tattoo bullshit denoting a full embrace of the gloomy, one-dimensional onion-skin introspection. You know, the kind that gets puddles forming at the feet of girls who aren’t yet old enough to know that any boy who wears more makeup than you is, by law of nature, a terrible fuck.
In spite of its pathetically effeminate fashion sense, the emo scene has become an immensely lucrative movement in music. Nobody knows this more than eyeliner-caked puppy-eyed Fall Out Boy bassist and “frontman” Pete Wentz, who, despite being neither the band’s singer or chief songwriter, has become the poster boy for an image none of his bandmates share, but has proven to be massively profitable.
Fall Out Boy’s staying power, their balancing act between douche kings and respectability comes from the fact that Wentz’s giddy immersion into the limelight (oh, sorry, Ashlee Simpson is his soul mate, right?) is coupled with a keen awareness of what sells. He’s a much better businessman than he is a musician. That said, his flamboyance is juxtaposed by singer Patrick Stump’s marshmallowy tendency to defer to his bassist, letting Wentz’s preening distract everyone while Stump lives out his Eighties fantasies- specifically, his dreams of Duran Duran tribute bands, as evidenced in heaping, nauseating doses on the band’s fifth and latest album, Folie à Deux (French for ‘a madness shared by two,’ aww). It’s an album of contradictions, of flash and grit, of peacock swagger and outright bottom-feeding desperation. And shocking as it may be to some, it doesn’t entirely suck.
Folie à Deux is ambitious, if slightly overreaching. They’ve got the chops to push on to bigger things, but there’s a naked sense of calculated ambition to it all, and not in an Ok Computer kind of way. The molting process doesn’t look to be entirely complete.
You can only blame your problems on the world for so long / Before it all becomes the same old song.
The petulant angst is apparently gone, and we’re evidently supposed to take this as the band’s world-weary beginning of a new chapter. A chapter in which they talk about how acting like they have over the last four albums isn’t cool anymore. These overblown gestures don’t strike me as a new beginning, however, so much as a band’s valiant attempt to stay on the wave, to remain relevant in a scene that’s starting to realize how stupid their hair looks.
It’s a solid album, but they got messy with the gloss, and what ultimately does Folie à Deux in is its overall bombastic nature. The sludge of guitar overdubs, wristless drumming, soaked keyboards and grating compression makes it too rich of an album for undevoted ears. Strip this shit down, even play it acoustic so we can see some bones in all this fat, and we might have ourselves a couple sexy jams. But as it stands, there’s enough slick production work and overdub makeup here to make the lovechild of Liberace and Liza Minelli look tame.
I Don’t Care coulda been a Shania Twain song. In fact, I think the instrumental track is one. It’s a prime example of the band’s strengths, a little bit of Broadway in a punk-pop sensibility, riding hard on the pulse of young fun. I don’t care what you think / As long as it’s about me…..
Ignoring the awkward key change late in the song, there’s something redeeming to She’s My Winona, but The (Shipped) Gold Standard promptly does away with any benefit of the doubt they’d gained. I’m reminded of Catherine Wheel’s Black Metallic- and not in a good way.
Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie adds vocals and keyboards to 20 Dollar Nose Bleed. Finger snaps and jazz hands would fit right in on this little ragtime number.
Tiffany Blews has a catchy melody, and Stump’s got the silky suave down in the refrain, but it ultimately falls flat. The cold-computed Neptunes infusion doesn’t always work either, nor does the Timberlake treatment. Still, Stump’s no slouch, and there’s a reason he’s been sought out by the likes of the Roots and Timbaland.
The earnest harmonies and heroin hooks sometimes pair well with the chunky rock riffs and anthem hail-marys, but sometimes they don’t, and end up sounding like derivative patchwork. Think young, naturally-white Michael Jackson, mixed with a schtickier and lower-common-denominator Kings Of Leon with a slight Kanye complex.
Speaking of Kings Of Leon, there’s real hope for W.A.M.S. at the onset, but digging through KOL castoff melodies and half-baked choruses don’t do anything for the fleeting thought that this could be a turning point in the album. The bare-bones bluesy outro comes off much more No Diggety than Howlin’ Wolf. In fact, the song really just makes me want to listen to the Kings’ latest, Only By The Night. The same can be said for faux-anthem for believing in nothing at all, Coffee’s For Closers – the string finish of which is the only good thing about it. I’m really starting to think that Patrick Stump and Caleb Followill have the same vocal coach.
The guests on Folie à Deux are, with one or two exceptions (Elvis Costello?), pretty much what you’d expect. Lil’ Wayne makes some kind of nonsense sounds on Tiffany Blews, Pharrell is his usual hey-let’s-party self on W.A.M.S., while post-menopausal Blondie siren Debbie Harry supposedly appears on West Coast Smoker, but I’ll be damned if I can find her in the mix. Furthermore, I don’t care if the backup choir to piano ballad What A Catch, Donnie features members of Panic At The Disco, The Academy Is… and Gym Class Heroes; the song is a pile of dogshit. I’ve got troubled thoughts and the self-esteem to match / What a catch- Wentz’s lyrical prowess has reached its peak on this one.
Folie à Deux is Fall Out Boy’s big guitar-pop rock opera, and if this is their American Idiot or Black Parade, so be it. Like Green Day and My Chemical Romance before them, for better or worse, they won’t top this with the same sound and palette of influence. The Boy hasn’t grown up, but he seems to be recognizing the need to.