Caffeinated silliness and shameless self-indulgence abound as Fall Out Boy's sound gets more ambitious.
Fall Out Boy: Folie à Deux
Pete Wentz runs his own record imprint, and his own publishing and merchandise brand. He has a clothing line, available exclusively through the US department store Nordstrom. The Angels & Kings club on New York's 11th Street? That's his. He has a film-production company. Pete Wentz endorses a Pete Wentz signature guitar made by the Fender offshoot Squier. He recently married the celebrity sibling Ashlee Simpson. Such are the prizes that fall to the bass player, chief lyricist and most visible member of Fall Out Boy, the most prominent exponents of the musical genre known, in reference to its pantomimed self-pity, as "emo".
Fall Out Boy are Grammy-nominated. They are double-platinum. "Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy," writes Wentz on the opening track of their fifth studio album. His CV tells a different story: if he broke a nail and got his band to sing about it, there would be queues. No, if Fall Out Boy aren't singing about tragedy, that can hardly be blamed on their audience. The real trouble is, they're too busy grousing about success.
"Where will I be when I wake up next to a stranger/ On a passenger plane?" sings Patrick Stump, the band's hobbit-like nonentity of a vocalist. "These friends, they don't love you/ They just love the hotel suites." Ah, rock-star angst, the best-documented of all our modern crop of mood disorders. Is no cure to be found? Fall Out Boy, at least, are pursuing a well-tried therapeutic course: ego-stroking collaborations with famous pals. Pharrell Williams guest produces on Folie á Deux, and there are vocals from Lil Wayne, Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello, among others.
The expanded cast goes with a more ambitious sound. Fall Out Boy haven't confined themselves to the pop-punk template for a while now - 2007's Infinity On High supplemented the buzz-saw guitars with sequenced drums, synths and strings - and this latest release sees them straying even further from the fold. The opener, Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes, borrows liberally from The Who's Baba O'Reilly. I Don't Care compounds the insolence of its refrain, "I don't care what you think as long as it's about me", by nabbing the opening riff from Spirit in the Sky (itself definitively appropriated by Goldfrapp on 2005's Ooh La La) and then pastiching Soft Cell. What a Catch, Donnie, besides featuring guest vocals from Costello, Brendan Urie from Panic at the Disco, Travis McCoy from Gym-Class Heroes and pretty much the entire roll-call at Decaydance Records, comes on like a show-band cover of Hey Jude. There's even a puzzling, a cappella blues coda to w.a.m.s., which if nothing else flaunts the pristine, characterless adaptability of Stump's vocals.
All of which is to be welcomed, on the whole, not least because a straight hour of over-compressed mall rock would give one a fearsome migraine. Yet, it's never exactly fun. Wentz's lyrics frequently lapse into a sort of caffeinated silliness, reflected in the aimless punning of titles like America's Suitehearts. And Fall Out Boy are a tiresomely knowing lot in general, old hands at sending up the clichés of rock success even as they fall into them (the video to 2006's This Aint a Scene, It's an Arms Race depicted the band, creatively bankrupt, holed up in a hip-hop studio. Until their encounter with Lil Wayne, this might have passed for a joke). At present, the band's biggest selling-point is their shamelessness, the glee with which they go about their hucksterism. "I must confess, I'm in love with my own sins", they sing on the aforementioned America's Suitehearts. It shows.