From its humble origins in the basements of suburban Wilmette and the
underground incubator of the Fireside Bowl, Fall Out Boy has risen to the
loftiest -- and strangest -- heights of modern celebrity.
The pop-punk quartet sold 3 million copies of its third album, "From
Under the Cork Tree" (2005), making today's release of "From Infinity on
High" one of the most anticipated of 2007.
Label honcho and King of Bling Jay-Z contributed vocals and production
and inspired a release-day stunt that finds the group playing three shows in
24 hours: an appearance with MTV in New York this morning, a show at
Chicago's House of Blues at 3:30 this afternoon and a gig on a rooftop in
downtown Los Angeles tonight.
(Hometown fans can forget about getting into HOB: All the tickets went to
a radio contest and the group's fan club. But the band will end its spring
tour with two shows at Charter One Pavilion on June 10-11, and those tickets
come on sale soon.)
For their many teenybopper fans, bassist-lyricist Pete Wentz, singer
Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andrew Hurley have been
rendered as plastic action figures, and Wentz has started his own clothing
line, Clandestine Industries. For older admirers, they designed a custom
compact for the car company sponsoring their tour. Wentz has even had naked
pictures spread across the Web, topping Pam Anderson and Paris Hilton in an
AOL poll of the most popular naughty Net searches. (He swears they're old
shots taken as a joke and hacked from his PDA -- yeah, right, tell it to
Scoff at all of this hype if you will, but Fall Out Boy's melodic,
exuberant and smartly written songs justify the excitement. And "From
Infinity on High" is a major leap forward, bringing a wild ambition to the
simple genre patented by the Ramones, revived by fellow Chicagoans
Screeching Weasel and turned into a platinum phenomenon by the likes of
Green Day and Blink-182.
The band's roots are still obvious, but this ain't your father's pop-punk
The new Billy Corgan?!
Many reviewers credit Jay-Z and fellow producer Babyface with upping the
dance quotient here. But the group was already moving this way -- see
Wentz's patronage of Panic! At the Disco via his Decaydance Records -- and
it's easy to forget that poppy punk bands have always flirted with disco
(remember Blondie's "Heart of Glass") or that Fall Out Boy's own career was
launched by ska-punk heroes Less Than Jake.
The real surprise is that Jay and Babyface are as adept with loud guitars
and pummeling rock rhythms as they are with funky jams. As a result, "This
Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" -- the single that the group premiered at
the American Music Awards last November and that promptly sold 162,000
copies in one week of downloads -- works equally as well as a dance-floor
groover and a chant-along, fist-pumping arena anthem.
"I am an arms dealer/Fitting you with weapons in the form of words,"
Wentz writes and Stump sings. "Don't really care which side wins/As long
as the room keeps singing/That's just the business I'm in."
This mercenary attitude is employed to dis exclusionary hipster rock
scenes, just like the Smashing Pumpkins did on their breakthrough single
"Cherub Rock." Wentz is the new Billy Corgan in this regard, using an
unapologetic fondness for classic-rock populism as an excuse to justify his
unbridled rock-star aspirations.
But as with the Pumpkins at their best, it's hard to complain when Fall
Out Boy (named for a superhero sidekick from the universe of "The Simpsons")
delivers the goods with such a diverse, larger-than-life, old-fashioned
blockbuster album, joining peers My Chemical Romance in crafting a silly but
irresistible "Bat Out of Hell" or "Frampton Comes Alive" for Generation Y.
From the snippet of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" woven into "Hum
Hallelujah," the fake hard-core/death metal growl of "The Carpal Tunnel of
Love," the Billy Joel piano balladry of "Golden" and the New Romantics disco
of "The (After) Life of the Party," no genre is left unscathed. Nor is there
a big production trick untried; witness the massive Beatles-style chorus of
"I'm a Lawyer With the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)," the
plunking strings and bleating horns meet power-chord guitars of "Thnks Frth
Mmrs" and an opening track called "Thriller" that one-ups Michael Jackson by
promising that your life can be saved by a vinyl 7-inch single ("So long
live the car-crash heart/Lie on the couch till the poets come to life/Fix me
Those ridiculously long, pun-filled song titles and winking allusions to
poetry have prompted some critics to lump Wentz, who's also publishing a
novel, with the hordes of whining emo "artistes," but that's just plain
wrong. Verbose and pretentious he may be, but he's also witty,
self-deprecating and thoroughly aware of how silly rock and stardom really
are. Together with his bandmates, he's simply having fun with it all.
This attitude is infectious. It's what justifies Jay-Z's taunt at the
start of the disc: "What you critics said would never happen, we dedicate
this album to anybody who people said couldn't make it!" But more
importantly, it's what rewards the last words we hear: "Now press repeat."
FALL OUT BOY
"From Infinity on High"