The Fall Out Boy that you know is dead.
It’s important to understand this to be true before diving into the band’s sixth full-length album, American Beauty/American Psycho. Acknowledging the fact that this is no longer the band that released the seminal emo classics Take This To Your Grave and From Under the Cork Tree. Truthfully, they haven’t been that band in a very long time. Since their comeback, the band have only seen their position in rock music and mainstream pop music alike continue to improve. This places the band between the rock of staying true to who you were, and a hard place of trying to stay relevant in a music industry where artists need to constantly churn out material in order to not be forgotten. Save Rock and Roll, the band’s comeback album, was a resounding success, and lead single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” brought them back to the mainstream in a big way. Now that they’ve re-established themselves as a pop act, the band have continued to cater their heartfelt brand of arena rock toward the crowd they’re attempting to become a mainstay in, which will likely strike fear into listeners longing for more songs like “Sugar, We’re Going Down” or “Saturday.” Fret not, dear reader, because this is not a death sentence. If anything, it’s a testament to how talented Fall Out Boy truly are.
Opening with “Irresistible,” one of a few tracks that finds main lyricist Pete Wentz discussing a love that he can’t get out of, despite the negative effects it has on him. Patrick Stump, whose vocal range continues to improve on every one of the band’s releases, dominates the track, particularly the chorus. “Irresistible” opens the album wonderfully, with its booming chorus and fast-paced verses. The title track follows, and in doing so brings about the first instance of the main issue with Beauty/Psycho: the album is far more inconsistent than it ought to be. Where “Irresistible” opens the album with an emphatic statement, the title track does not help to build any momentum, and ends up sounding like a scrapped song from Folie a Deux.
There are several instances throughout the album where Fall Out Boy attempt to do certain things, and end up having them work in some instances, but not in others. Take into consideration the band’s use of samples. The use of the hook from “Tom’s Diner” (originally by Suzanne Vega) gives lead single “Centuries” instant likability, as the melody fits perfectly as a pre-chorus. However, the sample of the guitar line from the theme song of monster TV show The Munsters absolutely kills the momentum of “Uma Thurman,” particularly after the boisterous opening. Where the use of the sample in “Centuries” boosts the track, the sample in “Uma Thurman” seems to just be sampling for the sake of it, and therefore clutters an otherwise catchy track.
Speaking of “Centuries,” the lead single highlights another lyrical theme Wentz seems focused on this time around: the feeling of being remembered forever. Given how well the band’s reunion has gone so far, it’s easy to see where the inspiration for these songs comes from. On “Centuries,” the band come off like the superstars they are, with each member getting their own time to shine. Stump’s vocals, a key strength throughout the album, are especially stuffed with swagger on the track’s verses, while the post-chorus vocal melodies are accented by Andy Hurley’s crushing cymbal hits, and a smooth guitar riff from Joe Trohman. The band come together perfectly on “Centuries,” making it a clear standout on the album. However, the album’s other single with a very similar lyrical focus, “Immortals,” doesn’t quite pack the same punch. Written for Disney’s Big Hero 6, the track feels out of place on the album, and may have been better left as a stand-alone single.
Despite its inconsistencies, however, American Beauty/American Psycho still has plenty of tracks that, despite their differences with the rest of Fall Out Boy’s discography, feel like vintage songs from the band. After an up-and-down opening to the album (beginning with “Irresistible” and ending with album lowlight “Uma Thurman”), the band find their groove, and go on a four-track run that brings the album’s overall quality way up. This run starts with “Jet Pack Blues,” a melancholy track that follows the tried-and-true formula of longing for a lover while on the road. Up next is “Novocaine,” a track that feels like the band’s 2015 version of Take This To Your Grave‘s “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today.” It’s an angry track, and the point is hammered home by Stump’s assertion at the end of the chorus. In a track named for a numbing drug, it’s fitting its chorus ends with a line as cold as “I don’t feel a thing for you.” “Fourth of July” brings the mood to a more cheery, summery place, thanks to it’s subject matter and title, symbolic of summertime. Listen carefully, though, and it’s a track lamenting the loss of a passionate love whose wild flames burnt out before their time. “It was like the fourth of July,” Wentz writes, “You and I were fireworks that went off too soon.” It’s a track that acknowledges the sweetness of the feelings in the relationship, while detailing perfectly the untimely demise of said relationship. This trio of songs makes way for the album’s crown jewel, “Favorite Record.” It plays very much like a future pop hit, but still spins like a classic Fall Out Boy song. The track follows the same lyrical theme of longing for a lost love that we’ve come to expect from Fall Out Boy’s early releases. However, the band’s status as a pop band takes hold of the track wonderfully this time around, and it turns into a breezy, windows-down-and-sing-your-heart-out moment, and the best such moment on the album.
Inconsistency aside, American Beatuty/American Psycho will be a true test for any fan of Fall Out Boy. It’s important to note the shift in style that the band have undergone this time around, as they’ve opted to go further down the rabbit hole they discovered on Save Rock and Roll, and the result is a Wonderland of pop-rock teeming with the band’s newfound swagger. That swagger results in moments of sheer brilliance (“Centuries,” album closer “Twin Skeleton’s (Hotel in NYC)”, and “Favorite Record,” arguably the best song they’ve penned since their rebirth), but there are other tracks that kill some of the momentum they start to build. The changes the band has made will be tough to stomach for fans, but after the initial shock, what fans will find is another album full of songs that redefine what Fall Out Boy are, and the new things that they’re capable of. If you’ve been following them for long enough, by now you should know that Fall Out Boy will never be the type of band to look back and long for what they once were, and they’re going to keep pushing themselves in different directions, no matter the cost. And once you listen to American Beauty/American Psycho, you wouldn’t have it any other way.